CD Roundup: Johnny Cash, Bouncer Fighter and Toki Wright

An optimistic emcee, raucous local rockers, and The Man in Black.

PHOTO COURTESY RHYMESAYERS ENTERTAINMENT

PHOTO COURTESY RHYMESAYERS ENTERTAINMENT

Tony Libera

Toki Wright ALBUM: Blackmale EP LABEL: Rhymesayers Local emcee Toki Wright has been playing sidekick to Rhymesayers superheroes for some time now, but the 2009 release of his debut album âÄúA Different MirrorâÄù showed that Wright is ready to go it alone. ItâÄôs been nine months since the album dropped and Wright has kept busy by touring the country, releasing music videos and working on the âÄúBlackMaleâÄù EP. The EP is now available as a free download with optional donations going directly to Haiti earthquake relief. On the musical front, âÄúBlackMaleâÄù provides a strangely seductive contrast. Wright picks his samples from a toy box of soul and R&B obscurities and overturns their mellow vibe with a hard vocal delivery. Taking on this tricky juxtaposition of moods highlights WrightâÄôs determination, a quality thatâÄôs more than apparent in his lyrics. In his own words, âÄúBlackMaleâÄù is an âÄúinterpretation on African-American manhood,âÄù an effort to reflect on a personal experience thatâÄôs inextricably linked to Minneapolis living. There are the familiar tales, like that of âÄúBarber ShopâÄù and the communal aspect of these haircut havens, but the EP also veers into less-worn territory. On âÄúThe Soul (Go There),âÄù Wright ponders fatherhood, while âÄúStealing ItâÄù finds Wright struggling with issues of identity and its uncertainty. Regardless of subject matter, one motif habitually creeps up in WrightâÄôs music: a relentless optimism thatâÄôs downright infectious. âÄúI could have been a whole lot of what IâÄôm not/ So IâÄôm-a keep rising to the top,âÄù he says on âÄúTime Zones ,âÄù counting his blessings and deciding to pay it forward. Aside from being a stud wordsmith, Wright is also heavily involved in community activism, and his outlook on the matter pervades his lyrics. The EP ends up being both contemplation and clarion call as Wright pushes himself and his listeners: âÄúWe gotta do a lot of searchinâÄô and a lot of workinâÄô/ I wanna show my city/ I wanna show my brothers/ I wanna show myself.âÄù 4/5 Stars Bouncer Fighter ALBUM: Satirical Spirituals LABEL: Anti-civ ItâÄôs hard to come up with a succinct description of Bouncer Fighter; they just throw too many genres into the metaphorical music blender. The resulting cocktail is both peculiar and charming âÄî an unnatural blend of prog-rock, heavy metal, punk and country that goes down smooth if youâÄôre into amalgamated shredding, but tastes like bleach if cacophony isnâÄôt your bag. âÄúSatirical Spirituals,âÄù Bouncer FighterâÄôs debut LP, opens with âÄúSmoking Drugs with Jesus,âÄù a blasphemous little number thatâÄôs as intricate as it is sonically jarring. The title suggests that thereâÄôs comedy to follow, but as soon as the dual guitars begin jangling down their untamed lines we understand that Bouncer Fighter mean business (at least as much as they can manage). Lead singer Caleb Pease belts out his lyrics in a fevered, double-tracked howl that ends up sounding more sinister that it actually is. After all, doing drugs with Jesus would undoubtedly be a euphoric experience. The dark and dirty stuff kicks in with âÄúCorpses on the Wall,âÄù a macabre track complete with a B-horror organ and a distorted saxophone to destroy whatâÄôs left of the eardrum. Pease continues with the moaning vocals but adds a dash of theatricality, rendering the doom and gloom inexplicably entrancing. The album is not without its softer side; âÄúPillow in a CoffinâÄù provides a nice contrast to the ruckus that precedes it, displaying just how versatile Bouncer Fighter can be. Pinging piano keys dance on top of acoustic guitar plucks as Pease laments his misfortunes and the day when his âÄúwhole world went soft like a pillow in a coffin.âÄù One has to imagine thatâÄôs pretty soft. âÄúSatirical SpiritualsâÄù shows why Bouncer Fighter gets both praise and scorn in local circles. ThereâÄôs an unquestionable technical proficiency behind their ballads, but the lack of restraint may divide fans down the line. 3.5/5 Stars Johnny Cash ALBUM: American VI: AinâÄôt No Grave LABEL: American Recordings ItâÄôs been nearly seven years since The Man in Black finally rode off into the sunset, taking with him his deified machismo and that golden wolverine purr. His death could have signaled the end of new releases, but Rick Rubin and company have decided to put out the remaining American Recordings, extending Johnny CashâÄôs legacy yet again. The (allegedly) final American album, âÄúAmerican VI: AinâÄôt No Grave,âÄù comes out today, haunting listeners with all of CashâÄôs faded glory. ItâÄôs always a little unsettling hearing posthumous releases, whether itâÄôs NirvanaâÄôs âÄúYou Know YouâÄôre RightâÄù or any of TupacâÄô s nine thousand albums. âÄúAmerican VIâÄù is equally unnerving, but in a poetic vein made all the more potent by CashâÄôs withered vocals. The star could bring gravitas to a grocery list. The opening track, âÄúAinâÄôt No Grave, âÄú comes in with ominous acoustic guitars and shadowed overtones, setting a tempestuous stage before Johnny comes in to growl. âÄúThere ainâÄôt no grave/can hold my body down,âÄù he says from the great beyond, a statement as eerie as it is prophetic. The Claude Ely cover ends up sounding sublime, not just from current context, but because it shows that a sense of optimism remained in CashâÄôs final days. Other ultra-poignant covers include Porter WagonerâÄôs âÄúSatisfied Mind ,âÄù which finds Johnny contently crooning âÄúThereâÄôs one thing for certain when it comes my time/ IâÄôll leave this old world with a satisfied mind,âÄù and Hank SnowâÄôs âÄúI DonâÄôt Hurt Anymore,âÄù a crackling, strained love song that finds new meaning with CashâÄôs death. âÄúAmerican VIâÄù closes with âÄúAloha Oe, âÄú Queen LiliâÄôuokalaniâÄôs most famous song. ItâÄôs bizarre hearing Cash sing a Hawaiian ballad, but as the album closes, the final line of âÄúUntil We Meet AgainâÄù becomes profoundly moving. âÄúAloha OeâÄù is ultimately the perfect goodbye to one of AmericaâÄôs greatest cultural icons. 4/5 Stars