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Bulls Gap (country) is unapologetic about it’s sound. From Western shirts and Johnny Cash-worthy hats to twangy vocals and acoustic guitars, this is pure country. The band derives its name from the small Tennessee town where founders Scott Arnold and Jerry Vincent attended grade school together. The two started a band when they were 17 and have been perfecting their harmonies and rural life-inspired song writing ever since.

• Local band GFE or Granola Funk Express (hip-hop) formed more than a decade ago when its members met on Grateful Dead and Phish tours. The eclectic group of up to 20 musicians settled in Asheville and honed its sound from folky street performances to edgy urban hip-hop—with distinctly positive, socially-progressive themes. While GFE’s remaining members (such as Cactus a.k.a. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Foul Mouth Jerk, Josh Blake and Adam Strange) have gone on to produce ambitious solo projects, the band regularly tours and records to the tune of critical acclaim.

Laura Blackley Band (swampy Southern soul), fronted by inveterate local songstress (and music writer) Laura Blackley, has been around in a variety of versions for about a decade. But even though Blackley’s songs are a tried-and-true part of the Asheville soundscape, don’t make the mistake of trying to pigeonhole this bluesy singer/songwriter. “I hate the term ‘folk-rock,’ almost as much as I hate what Nashville’s done to country music,” she reveals on her Myspace site. What Blackley does seem keen on is doing it her way. She has independently released four records, most recently Love & Monsters.

Drew Holcomb (singer/songwriter) calls Nashville home, but his sound has little to do with the commercial country associated with that city. Instead, Holcomb’s lyrics are poignant and immaculately crafted while his melodies are both haunting and catchy. The vocal team of Holcombe and his wife, Ellie, add to the emotional depth of the music. Their blended harmonies also add weight to their assertions that “Love is Magic” and “You are a novel in a sea of magazines.”

Hot Politics (jazz, funk). This Greensboro, N.C.-based sextet describes itself as “a retro-funk outfit,” but despite vintage influences like The Funky Meters, the band’s combo of guitars, horns (euphonium!) and percussion produces a fresh, modern sound. Hot Politics is currently touring behind its studio debut, Get Loose.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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