Review: Gangstagrass at The Mousetrap 

click to enlarge BEN SMITH
  • Ben Smith

Once again, the always hospitable people over at The Mousetrap hosted the late night show of choice, delivering a righteous blend of urban and Appalachian in a fusion of bluegrass and hip hop - with that combination, can you really go wrong?

Well yeah, probably - I love both genres, but they're appealing for very different reasons, and rarely do those two reasons show up at the same party together. But apparently this was one of those parties, and Brooklyn-based Gangstagrass did not disappoint.

Before they took the stage though, DJ Helicon set the mood right spinning a mix of nothing but classics: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, ATLiens-era Outkast - a crash course in legendary hip-hop records. Someone needs to get to work cloning this man and installing his doppelgangers in every restaurant, drinking establishment, and radio station in Indy. It's a matter of public health.

Then he quietly packed up his things, and thus began the hip-hop hoedown.

It's a winning recipe: one part moonshine, one part sticky blunts. The only comparison that comes to mind is Mo Thugs' "Ghetto Cowboy", but that honestly doesn't do them justice - replace the corny synthesizers with live instruments and a ruckus beat, and I suppose you're getting warmer.

Gangstagrass records and performs with an evolving list of MCs, but on this occasion they brought Philly-based rappers R-SON the Voice of Reason and Dolio the Sleuth, who each took their turn spitting verses and occasionally stepping back to bang their heads to the sound of a banjo.

Most of the actual singing is done by Rench, the band's frontman and guitarist, and the brains behind Gangstagrass - he produces the beats, cueing them up with a foot pedal as he strums away at his guitar, occasionally stepping up to the mic to sing the Hank Williams-style choruses.

You may be familiar with one of their songs, "Long Hard Times to Come" - it's the theme to the FX series Justified, and while certainly praiseworthy, their performance here suggested a group with the potential to advance their success beyond a single song. This is especially true given the latest addition to their line-up, the brilliant Landry McMeans of the Austin alt-country band The Lonesome Heroes.

She's a double threat: a stellar vocalist and a show-stopper on the resonator guitar, with skillful sliding that tends towards intoxicating, sometimes haunting tones, adding an artful Deep South dynamic to the music - assuming they fully utilize her talent, I would expect awesome things to come from Gangstagrass in the future.

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