Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ is a little bit country and a whole lot more: Review

Beyoncé told us, in the most Sasha Fierce terms, “This ain’t a country album. It’s a Beyoncé album.”

She wasn’t playing.

Cowboy Carter,” her eighth studio album, was teased as her foray into country, inciting the ire of the same myopic people who couldn’t accept her performance of “Daddy Lessons” on the 2016 Country Music Association Awards with The Chicks.

She blasted past the detractors to become the first Black woman to top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs with “Texas Hold ‘Em,” a gliding banjo-tinged single that factored in the requisite touchstones of whiskey, dive bars and crickets chirping in the background.

“Cowboy Carter,” however, is more than a genre-trapping production. It’s a deep stylistic smorgasbord that gets scattershot in the final third of the album’s 27 tracks (several of them interludes) with trap beats and fiddles vying for the front row.

Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter" was teased as a country album, but it's a much deeper stylistic smorgasbord.
Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” was teased as a country album, but it’s a much deeper stylistic smorgasbord.

But the album is also the most melodic of Beyoncé’s recent oeuvre, teeming with conventionally packaged compositions and memorable choruses, and presents maximum insight into her as a mother, daughter and wife.

She may admit on “Daughter,” “If you cross me, I’m just like my father. I am colder than Titanic water.” But nestled in so many songs are tender pledges to safeguard and nurture, obvious forms of love letters to her children.

More: Funniest misheard Beyoncé lyrics, from ‘Singing lettuce’ to ‘No bottom knee’

Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Linda Martell give their blessings

Beyoncé’s shrewdness is to be applauded for her enrollment of a trio of country legends – Willie NelsonDolly Parton and Linda Martell – who pop up in various interludes to introduce songs. What is unspoken is most laudable: Their mere presence is an endorsement of Beyoncé’s musical explorations.

When Nelson, in his “Smoke Hour” interval, audibly inhales and invites listeners to sink into “Texas Hold ‘Em,” he caps his introduction with a shrug, saying, “If you don’t want to go, find yourself a jukebox.”

If you aren’t willing to accept Beyoncé in whichever chameleonic state she chooses, well, Willie has no time for you.

In photos she shared on Instagram for Valentine's Day 2024, Beyoncé wore a Dolce & Gabbana point d’esprit tulle gown with exposed boning details. She accessorized her look with a tulle veil, glove, and leather garter belt with a metal DG logo plate and buckles.
In photos she shared on Instagram for Valentine’s Day 2024, Beyoncé wore a Dolce & Gabbana point d’esprit tulle gown with exposed boning details. She accessorized her look with a tulle veil, glove, and leather garter belt with a metal DG logo plate and buckles.

Parton stamps her approval on “Jolene,” her 1973 takedown of a woman eyeing her man, which Beyoncé augments with fierce new lyrics that should inspire much cowering. (“I know I’m a queen, Jolene/I’m still a Creole banjee bitch from Louisiana. Don’t try me.”)

“You know that hussy with the good hair you sing about?” Parton asks, in a callback to Beyoncé’s “Becky with the good hair” accusation in “Sorry.” “Reminded me of someone I knew back when.”

It’s especially poignant to hear the voice of Linda Martell, the first commercially successful Black woman in country music as well as the first to play the Grand Ole Opry.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” Martell muses at the start of “SpaghettII,” the first hard musical swerve on the album from fluttering acoustic guitars to heated hip-hop.

More: Sheryl Crow talks Stevie Nicks, Olivia Rodrigo and why AI in music ‘terrified’ her

Beyoncé enlists Miley Cyrus, Post Malone to mixed results

Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, is an accomplice on one of the most majestic songs on “Cowboy Carter,” the glorious duet, “II Most Wanted.”

Beyoncé magnanimously offers Cyrus the opening verse, and the twosome trade lines, not sparring, but complementing. Sometimes they sound like a modern-day Thelma and Louise (“I’ll be your shotgun rider ‘til the day I die”), steeped in limitless loyalty as they reflect on aging and love. The skipping acoustic guitar is a mere backdrop to these vocal powerhouses, with Cyrus’ gravel the equilibrium to Beyoncé’s honey.

Her pairing with Post Malone on “LevII’s Jeans” is less effective, both lyrically – the song’s predictable innuendo quickly grates – and musically. Post Malone is perfectly listenable on the swaying chorus that would indeed fit the conventional country mold, but it could have been anyone adding his verses, even the nod of “You’re my renaissance.”

“LevII’s Jeans” also sparks a run of songs centered on Beyoncé’s hallmark topic: sex. There’s plenty of backseat suggestions over a thick bass line (“Desert Eagle”), much “gripping and grinding” (“Hands II Heaven”) and teasing that “hips are so hypnotic. I am such a tyrant” (“Tyrant”).

Beyoncé attends the Luar fashion show during New York Fashion Week, Feb. 13, 2024 in New York City.

Beyoncé attends the Luar fashion show during New York Fashion Week, Feb. 13, 2024 in New York City.

Beyoncé gets serious: ‘They don’t know how hard I had to fight for this’

Beyoncé starts her “Cowboy Carter” journey with affecting profundity.

“American Requiem” opens with five minutes of church, as Beyoncé speak-sings, “There’s a lot of talking going on while I’m singing my song … can you hear me?” An amalgamation of guitars, sitars and layered vocals steer the song, which is more about setting a tone than being played on radio.

“They don’t know how hard I had to fight for this,” Beyoncé says, before her requiem segues, pointedly, into an emotionally stirring version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird.”

Paul McCartney wrote the song, in part, about the Civil Rights movement and those affected by discrimination and Beyoncé wraps her pure voice around the ballad to chilling effect.

Strings accompany the usual sparse guitar as background vocals from other Black female country singers – Brittney Spencer, Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts – soar through the crevices of the song.

The best song on ‘Cowboy Carter’ is ‘Ya Ya’

Following another snappy introduction from Martell, Beyoncé basks in an echo effect on her girlish vocals as she finger snaps and calls for a beat. You can picture the video of her high-stepping and hair-flinging as she slinks and slides around the retro groove.

The interpolations of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” inject the song with a carefree vibe as Beyoncé has a ball with her vocals, going into Marilyn Monroe mode via Elvis Presley snarls. There’s even a bit of Tina Turner feistiness in her delivery, perhaps a nod to another trailblazer who hopscotched genres with conviction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *