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Gangstagrass - Pocket Full of Fire (Rench Audio)

12 June 2019

Just dissect this band’s name to imagine the bizarre but compelling culture clash unleashed on Pocket Full of Fire. “Barnburning” leads the fray, introduced with an earth-shaking hip-hop loop and the cavernous voice of R-Son the Voice of Reason – soon followed by the Dan Whitener’s relentlessly tumbling clockwork banjo. The fusion of gangsta rap and bluegrass may seem like some bleary-eyed guitarist’s 3AM joke after too many beers, only to meet the sunrise thinking, “It’s so crazy that it just … might … work.” But that’s the thing; it does work, as Gangstagrass has proven for 13 years. Lil Nas X may have struck gold with his recent country-rap chart-topper “Old Town Road,” but Gangstagrass were mining and refining the style long before. The vibrant sound stands up song after song on Pocket Full of Fire. The band is renowned for its buzzing energy in the live setting, and this album of concert recordings from the quintet’s March 2018 Midwest tour captures twelve songs at peak flame. The single “You Can Never Go Home Again” was performed locally at Evanston’s Space nightclub. Guitarist Rench begins with a plaintive Appalachian melody while Whitener sings the lamentation of a melancholy jailbird facing punishment for his misdeeds. The energy is amplified with street-level urgency and rapid-fire confessionals from the rappers. “Led a life by the sword, forced to fall upon it,” says Dolio the Sleuth. The equally grim “Nowhere to Run” was also recorded at Space, heightened by the gliding dobro and tremulous soprano of Landry McMeans. “Gunslinging Rambler” from 2012’s Rappalachia features the juxtaposition of nimble yodeling with tongue-twisting rhymes that namecheck Led Zeppelin against carefree bluegrass instrumentation. Rounding out the band’s Space selections is an imaginative take on bluegrass Gospel standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” McMeans’ airy melody soars above rich bass harmony, and trades verses with roof-raising raps and shimmering instrumental solos. The title of the band’s 2010 album Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic still offers an apt summation of Gangstagrass’ singular appeal. Get Pocket Full of Fire as a primer of band’s prowess through a collection of its best songs recorded live, but don’t miss a chance to see Gangstagrass in person. (