Colt Ford/Walker Montgomery
Last weekend, rap mingled with bluegrass during the Lexington return of Gangstagrass (see accompanying review). This weekend, country music hitches its saddle up to hip hop with Colt Ford.
There are marked differences between the two acts, however. Gangstagrass offered a pretty direct mash-up of pre-bluegrass country music and hip hop with a band make-up of three string musicians and two emcees. Ford’s music sports a heavier guest list with country (traditional and contemporary) inviting in rock, Southern rock and blues as well as rap.
The instrumentation is pretty much the same as what any other modern country act employs with the job of blurring styles falling largely to Ford himself. Well, he brings a few pals along for the ride, too — at least, on record.
Ford’s sixth and newest album, “Love Hope Faith,” sports cameos by Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum and Tyler Farr. What results, as termed in Ford’s bio material, is “the ultimate country populist record.”
Curiously, Ford pursued a career as a professional golfer during the 1990s. He still plays various charity tournaments but has been locked into life as a country artist since the release of his 2008 debut album “Ride Through the Country.”
A native of Athens, Ga., Ford mined Central Kentucky influences from the onset of his recording career. The title tune from “Ride Through the Country” was a duet with John Michael Montgomery (a single that charted nearly a year after the album’s release). Ford was also featured on a rap remix of the 2008 Montgomery Gentry hit “Ride With Me.”
Additionally, the album contained “Dirt Road Anthem,” a tune with an astonishing half-life. Ford penned the song with singer Brantley Gilbert, who subsequently cut his own version for his sophomore recording “Halfway to Heaven.” But the song turned gold when Jason Aldean it took to the top of the Billboard country charts and the Top 10 of the all-genre Billbaord Hot 100 in 2011.
Ford has spent time in Lexington, as well. He opened a sold-out October 2013 concert by Florida Georgia Line at Whitaker Bank Ballpark and rapped along on “Country in My Soul” during the duo’s headlining set. This week, Ford plays the Manchester Music Hall, a venue he first played in 2011 when it operated as Buster’s Billiards and Backroom. He’ll also be in the company of another Montgomery. Walker Montgomery, son of John Michael, will open.
"People aren't so genre-specific anymore,” Ford said prior to the Buster’s show. “They just go, ‘Do I like the song or do I not like the song.' And that's really all that's going on with my music."
We know spring officially arrived just a few days ago, but it’s not too early to plan for the next change of season. Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Dr., has announced three killer late spring and early summer shows.
▪ Robbie Fulks: The great Chicago tunesmith Robbie Fulks performs May 18 (9:30 p.m., $10. $12). A veteran of numerous local outings at Lynagh’s Music Club and The Dame, Fulks was last seen in Lexington as a guest at the April 2016 Mountain Stage taping at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
▪ The Blasters: The still-blistering roots rock troupe from Los Angeles, with three of its original members on board including singer Phil Alvin, performs on June 19 (9 p.m., $20, $25). The Blasters played the old Willie’s location on North Broadway in 2014 and Cosmic Charlie’s last year.
▪ Chuck Prophet: Just confirmed is a July 7 return by the veteran San Francisco rocker Chuck Prophet. Starting time and ticket price are to-be-announced. Another Lynagh’s stalwart, Prophet hasn’t been in town since a 2012 stop at Cosmic Charlie’s.
For more info on these performances, go to willieslocallyknown.com/events.
The week that was
▪ Gangstagrass at Willie’s Locally Known: “I love it when you guys are down with the program,” remarked Gangstagrass guitarist and chieftain Rench. The program, in this instance, was a musical mission that has been viewed over the past decade as a mash-up of bluegrass and hip-hop. This one hour, 45 minute performance revealed, however, that summation to be slightly inaccurate.
The very handmade musical fabric supplied by Rench, Dan Whitener and Landry McMeans (on acoustic guitar, banjo and dobro, respectively) was more reflective of pre-bluegrass country music, especially works that generously emphasized their Appalachian ancestry, than what we have come to accept as bluegrass.
Tempos were rougher, darker and slower than the string music brought forth in the post-Bill Monroe age. The approach could have almost been accepted as folk if it weren’t for the looped beats that continually grooved under the tunes, from the show opening “I Go Hard” to the closing cover of the roots-music staple “Darlin’ Cory (Dig a Hole in the Meadow)”.
That set-up made it easier for emcees R-Son and Dolio the Sleuth to bring the hip hop element to the evening. While deciphering their rhymes was often difficult given the show’s muddy sound mix, what resulted were songs where the three instrumentalists established the music’s traditionally minded accents through narratives the emcees would then mirror with more contemporary slants.
Even the most familiar fare, such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” was presented with a wild duality, interspersing vintage verses sung by the players with modern rhymes based off those words by the emcees. The formula didn’t shift dramatically on original fare that included “Bound to Ride,” “Keep Talking” and the new “Nowhere to Run.”
The most elaborate example of this cross-generational song swapping came when Gangstagrass let its popular “Justified’ theme song “Long Hard Times to Come” bleed into a vigorous update of “Hard Times Come Again No More,” the folk-blues affirmation penned by Stephen Foster. Bolstered by McMeans’ amplified dobro runs that mimicked electric slide guitar, the emcees’ tireless performance drive and the unwavering confidence the full band displayed in making such disparate styles sound natural and unified, the two tunes showed how Gangstagrass getting with its own program just as readily as its audience was.