Some people will tell you that it’s impossible for musicians to create anything new. Technically that’s true. However, some bands come up with something rare enough that you have to pay attention. Such is the case with Pocketful of Fire, the new live album from Gangstagrass, a band that combines bluegrass with hip-hop. Yes, you read that correctly.
This album opens with the backbeat of “Barnburning.” After a couple seconds of that, you hear a banjo part that would fit just as well in a classic bluegrass song. The vocals on the other hand are closer to Chuck D than anything in the bluegrass realm. If this one isn’t enough to grab your attention, it’s hard to know what will.
One great thing about this album is that every song has a little different sound depending on who provides the vocals. With lead vocals by Landry McMeans (dobro), “Red River” feels like a gospel-infused country song. Dan Whitener (banjo) provides the lead vocals on “You Can Never Go Home Again”, a song with a lonesome sound and the classic theme of a man being sentenced to prison.
It’s doubtful that anyone would call this traditional bluegrass, although there certainly are some similarities. First, Rench (guitar), Whitener and McMeans can pick as well as any traditional bluegrass artist. Another similarity is that every member of the band including R-Son the Voice of Reason and Dolio the Sleuth provides vocals. On top of that, the band does a version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” McMeans sings the opening verse, and her voice is enough to give you goosebumps. Then the harmony vocals come in and multiply the goosebumps. It’s quite a bit different than The Carter Family version, but the harmonies are just as pretty. The addition of rapped vocals is different for this song, but that’s not a bad thing unless you’re a bluegrass traditionalist.
“Ain’t no Stopping” is a great closer to this album because you get rap vocals up front and bluegrass harmonies in the background. Chances are, you’ve never heard a bluegrass song with vocals like, “Like this. Like this. We all up in the house like this.” Chances also are that you won’t be able to listen to this song just once.
Bluegrass and hip-hop are an unlikely combination, but this album is the perfect blend of those two great styles of music. Pocketful of Fire will be available everywhere on February 15. Order your copy here.