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Cowboy Troy

Black in the Saddle – 2007 (Warner/Raybaw)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Cowboy Troy

Two years ago when Nashville's Muzik Mafia unleashed Cowboy Troy Johnson's hick-hop on an unsuspecting country audience, club deejays spun it, fans and the media dug it but radio programmers recoiled as if it was Willie Nelson doing Gregorian chants.

Not surprising, since Troy's raucous country-rap-rock mash-up is hardly Haggard and Jones. And frankly, just because an artist dons a 10-gallon hat, boots, jeans and a big silver buckle doesn't automatically guarantee a spot on country playlists. He needs to earn it.

While the continuing saga of a black rapper in a white country world plays out the next several months, the Dallas native presents a persuasive case for his music. Troy's 10-song album (plus two dance mixes) tackles social and racial issues in a rapid-fire delivery backed with power-chord heavy guitars, grinding fiddles and the occasional wailing steel guitar riff.

Though thoughtful and often defiant, it's lyrically G-rated stuff by most hip-hop standards. Nevertheless, Troy drills down beyond bone and strikes an arguably uncomfortable nerve with "How Can You Hate Me?" and "Man With the Microphone," yet deftly switches to party mode with "Blackneck Boogie" and "Hick Chick." With a lyrical assist from John Rich*several Muzik Mafiosos lend their talents*a pulsing bass and percussion add urgency to "Lock Me Up."

Sure, you can call Cowboy Troy country, but it's a stretch. Maybe his music doesn't deserve to be sandwiched between Carrie Underwood and Kenny Chesney, but distilled to its purest form compelling lyrics and a good beat isn't that what good music, country or otherwise, is all about?