CrazyHorse & Colston, the hip-hop duo of Asheville natives Max Hupertz and Bryan Godleski, claims to be inspired by rock, blues, country and bluegrass,” all of which can be felt on the band’s new album, Backroads & Bonfires. It pulses with hand drums along side drum kit, with cool guitar riffs and brassy jabs of horns. It also thrums with sounds and sights culled straight from the countryside — dusty lanes and chilly rivers. These off-the-beaten-track places are every bit as important to the album and its unique rhythm and tone as are the clubs, bars and city streets.
Backroads quickly separates itself from standard hip-hop fare — “Cruise Control” takes its cues from an unspoken but documented tradition of naming places (think: Dion’s “The Wanderer”). “Mirage” is underscored throughout by a sample of symphonic strings.
“Where the Water Runs Deep” has a hooky chorus and some thoughtful spoken word parts that reveal a spiritual bent (one more concerned with nature than the church). The track also showcases some very soulful vocalists, both from Hupertz and Godleski and from backup singer Kim Tzakos. (There are a number of guest contributors to this project, not the least Brandt Crabbe whose saturated and engaging photos throughout the album notes lend themselves to the story told by the 15 tracks.)
“Makin’ Change” is a thoughtful meditation on the some of the cornerstones of mainstream hip-hop culture (drugs, misogyny). It’s mostly about emotional dependency on marijuana, and rising above all the roadblocks that hold all people from their greatest potential.
But Backroads isn’t preachy. There’s a lot of talk about weed being smoked. And the ladies are asked to shake their tangerines on “We Got That,” CrazyHorse & Colston’s own “Sweet Home Alabama.” Here (as on many tracks) the duo extols the simple pleasures of southern living, offering no apologies for tastes that include jumping off waterfalls and sipping corn liquor. “I ain’t doing anything I can’t do right and I ain’t fitting into jeans if they’re too tight,” they rap.
“Goodness Gracious” continues on that theme with amped up swagger. “North Cackalacky” rolls off the tongue with surprising alacrity. There’s a sense, though out, that CrazyHorse & Colston are at ease with who they are and where they’re from. That, even if hip-hop is not as synonymous with Appalachia as, say, the banjo, they’re not sweating it. Hupertz and Godleski rise to the challenge of crafting hip-hop that touches on regional themes (and somewhat questionable dealings with women). On the spooky, minor keyed “The Crusher,” a fast-paced and building rap is paired with fiddle (by Sons of Ralph‘s Don Lewis) that sounds almost like a metal guitar solo.
And on final track, “Keep Drivin’,” funk organ, hand claps and harmonica (by John Hupertz) talks not about Bentleys and chrome rims but about driving a decade-and-a-half-old Toyota truck. It’s a song about being happy with what you’ve got, and it’s about something deeper than that, too: “If you hate a little rain, then you should stay inside.” There’s something about the mix of fishing references and behind-the-beat percussion punch that feels both laid-back country (Brad Paisley’s “Water”) and slickly urban. And that CrazyHorse & Colston seamlessly fuse the two worlds leads to a heady brew custom made for summer days, long drives, swimming holes and porch parties.
CrazyHorse & Colston play Bele Chere on Friday, July 29 on the Haywood Street stage. 6:30-8 p.m.