Each month for our ELLN teleconference this year, I am highlighting an album. I hope you join us on our Forums or for this afternoon’s call. If you’re an in-house counsel and not part of the ACC or the Employment & Labor Law Network, you can join ACC and ELLN today and see what we’re all about! I hope to (virtually) see you soon.
ELLN June Music Quick Pick
ELLN Chair Doug Hass has long been a music buff (he founded country music site Roughstock.com in 1993) and long done a lot of driving for and to work. That’s given him lots of time to indulge and explore his music interests To help entertain you on your commutes or at the gym, office, home, or on the go, Doug is offering a year-long series of picks that will showcase some of the best albums you may have never heard, or that deserve another listen. We hope that each monthly choice piques your interest in these albums and artists. These may be titles that you have never heard of, but our hope is that your interest will be piqued and your musical world enriched!
|Gangstagrass – Pocket Full of Fire: Gangstagrass Live|
(Released 2019; Recorded 2018)
|Amazon Music – Apple Music – Spotify — Pandora|
Last month, I mentioned Cowboy Troy, part of the “Muzik Mafia” led by Big & Rich, and his “hick-hop” style blending country and rap. Either of Big & Rich’s first two albums, 2004’s double-platinum Horse Of A Different Color or the follow up Comin’ To Your City would be good choices for quick picks if only because of how unusual their sound was back in the mid-2000s: a combination of arena-rock, banjo and fiddle, and strong dual-lead harmonies that made a right turn from the 90s hat acts and pop-country that dominated country radio. Cowboy Troy, though, made me think of another group from the Americana realm that is far more worthy of a monthly quick pick: Gangstagrass. Bluegrass and hip hop seem like an odd mix? They shouldn’t. Country, bluegrass, and hip-hop all draw heavily from the Southern gospel tradition. All three genres are variations of folk music, made by and for specific working-class cultures in specific geographic areas. Each incorporates music into their oral storytelling traditions as a way to share their struggles, trials, and tribulations. Musically, they share many techniques as well. Other than perhaps Motown at its peak, can you name any other genres so completely wedded to (albeit distinct) locations and people?
Gangstagrass’s progressive sound is no gimmick. It might not be for purists in either bluegrass or rap, but assuming you do not reside in either of those isolated, absolutist camps, they will blow you away. Founded in 2006, the band caught a break when FX Network asked frontman Rench to write the theme for its new series Justified. The result, Long Hard Times to Come, featuring rapper T.O.N.E.-z, earned an Emmy nomination in 2010. Two years later, Gangstagrass released Rappalachia, a 15-song album featuring a variety of rappers, including Kool Keith and Dead Prez, and new group members R-SON, and Dolio The Sleuth.
Rappalachia is a great place to start, but as I have with other picks this year, I think a live album is a better introduction to the band. Pocket Full of Fire: Gangstagrass Live gives you the best sense of what this exceptional New York-based band can do. The album opens with “Barnburning,” which sounds like what you might get if you took late 80s Public Enemy and put them on stage with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Like any good bluegrass band or rap group, everyone in the group can (and does) take the lead. Landry McMeans, the band’s dobro player, brings a Southern gospel feel to “Red River” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” On the latter, McMeans’ voice on the first verse and the harmonies that follow are as good as any cover of this Carter Family classic. The addition of perfectly mixed rap just might give you goosebumps. This track best encapsulates the sound and style Gangstagrass strives for. Dan Whitener, a sublime banjo picker, brings a lonesome, mountain sound to his turn as lead on “You Can Never Go Home Again,” my favorite song on the album. The last song, “Ain’t No Stopping,” showcases R-Son and Dolio and their rap vocals backed by bluegrass harmonies. This will be the first time you have ever heard a bluegrass lyric, “Like this. Like this. We all up in the house like this.” It won’t be the last time. You will put this album on repeat.
I hope you enjoy (or enjoy rediscovering) this month’s pick!