The way I see it when it comes to Americana music albums released so far in 2020, I believe there are a select handful of records that speak directly to and about certain aspects of the personal and political state of affairs in this country right now. I believe they are The Unraveling by the Drive-By Truckers, Ghosts of West Virginia by Steve Earle and The Dukes, Reunions by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Good Souls Better Angels by Lucinda Williams, and Half Moon Light by The Lone Bellow. No Time For Enemies, the new album from the multiracial and groundbreaking bluegrass/hip-hop group Gangstagrass also now deserves to be added to this elite list as well.
The best way I can describe Gangstagrass’ distinctive and revolutionary sound to the uninitiated is this – start with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and The Carter Family, add The Staple Singers and The Roots, mix it up, and then add the incendiary and biting lyrics of both Woody Guthrie and KRS- One and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the irresistible sonic assault of American music this band has routinely produced since its inception in 2006.
In the collection of songs on this album, the group continues to purposefully and gleefully shatter and blur the lines between what is White music and what is Black music and presents to the listener a number of ready-made anthems and classics that easily rank as some of the most profound, outspoken, and boldest in American musical history.
From the scorching and American history drenched opening number “Freedom” to the inviting call to action that is “Ride With You,” to the barriers of society attacking “Working On That Chain,” to the politically pragmatic “Do Better,” to the unapologetic and the diversity celebrating ‘What I Am,” and to the soaring, inspirational, and tear-inducing “Your Land,” and of all the other songs in between on this album, the group is undeniably delivering an urgent and irrepressible message to all of us as American citizens right now.
That message is rooted in positive realism and it is this – that it is time to recognize once and for all our past sins as a country, that racism and economic disparity and their aftereffects hurt all of us, that we are all more alike than we are different, and that societal change is not only needed, it is possible if we stop seeing each other as potential enemies and agree to work together to fix this country from the bottom up.
Without denigrating any of the great albums that I listed in my opening paragraph, I believe that this album ranks above them in cultural stature because of this messaging and that it is not only the album for 2020 but is also the sonic marker that establishes Gangstagrass as America’s band for this moment and for its foreseeable future.
No Time For Enemies (Anti-Fragile Records) was produced by Rench and will be available on August 14th on the band’s website .