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Friday, October 29, 2010

Gangstagrass feat. T.O.N.E.z. - Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On the Mic

Gangstagrass feat. T.O.N.E.z. - Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On the Mic
2010, Rench Audio

Sometimes the greatest strokes of genius aren't truly original thoughts, but new ways of seeing things we already know.  Computer in a phone come to mind? How about peanut butter and chocolate?  Brooklyn singer/songwriter/producer Rench was at such a crossroads in the summer of 2007.  After spending years creating his own blend of trip-hop and honky-tonk for years Rench wanted to go a bit deeper.  The result was a free compilation called Gangstagrass: Volume 1, blending hip-hop beats and rhymes with bluegrass samples.  The reaction was electric, and Rench was asked to write a them to the new FX show Justified in the same vein.  Rench teamed up with Bronx rapper T.O.N.E-z, the younger brother of Special K (Treacherous Three) and T La Rock to write and record "Long Hard Times To Come", this time using real instrumentalists rather than samples.  The effort was so rewarding that it has inspired an entire album, simply entitled Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic.

Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic opens with "That's Right I'm Good", a delightful blend of gangsta rap and bluegrass full of braggadocio, hot licks and an incessant beat you can't help but want to dance to.  "I'm Gonna Put You Down" explores the intersection of Christian thought and gangsta culture, showing apparent incompatibilities as sometimes surprising points of potential growth.  "Trouble Everywhere I Go" finds T.O.N.E-z at his rhyming best, and the backing vocals included here are amazing.  "Click Ol' Gun" allows the instrumentalists to run away with the show for a few minutes, adding a distinctive zest to bluegrass runs with vibrant hip-hop beats.

"I Go Hard" might carry a double meaning for T.O.N.E-z, crafting an image of danger while implying a ruthless ambition in the pursuit of dreams.  T.O.N.E-z is at his fiery best here, and the trio of Matt Check (banjo); Todd Livingston (dobro) and Jason Cade (fiddle) match him step-for-step.  "Nobody Gonna Miss Me" explores the path of a lone wolf in a world that values conformity.  Gangstagrass and T.O.N.E-z have been building toward an apex from the beginning, and it arrives in this moment blending brilliant rhymes, a stunning arrangement and absolutely inspired musicianship.  "In My Aching Heart Shadows Linger" is a song of longing and remembrance; an emotional moment amongst the complex, shifting emotions that flow throughout the album.  "My Enemies Lay Beneath The Prairie" is one last chance for Gangstagrass to show off their instrumental chops; a dizzying affair that will have you dancing and wondering what just hit you.  Lighting On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic closes with "Put Your Hands Up High"; a feel good closer that's over the top.  T.O.N.E-z rhymes like he believes he's Superman, and he's so good he makes you want to believe.

In an era where the lines between musical genres blend and blur every day it's not surprising that someone got around to mixing bluegrass and hip-hop.  What is amazing is how splendidly well-done Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic truly is.  Gangstagrass, as an instrumental group could walk into almost any venue in Nashville and be welcome.  T.O.N.E-z plays off the disparity in styles, blending brilliant rhymes into the Appalachian mix like he was born to do nothing less.  Gangstagrass is one of the most innovative albums of 2010.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5) 

Learn more about Gangstagrass at or  Lightning On The Strings, Thunder On The Mic is available from as a CD and Download.  The album is also available from iTunes.

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