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‘Cowboy Carter’ Album Review: A Legendary Homage to the Origins of Country Music

5 Stars

Beyoncé "Cowboy Carter" on March 29.
Beyoncé "Cowboy Carter" on March 29. By Courtesy of Beyoncé / Parkwood Entertainment LLC
By Michael F. Bido, Contributing Writer

Beyoncé recently released her eighth studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” on March 29. After the release of “16 CARRIAGES” and the record-breaking hit single “TEXAS HOLD ’EM,” Beyoncé faced high expectations and global attention surrounding the new album. A display of raw emotion, “Cowboy Carter” is a genre-defying album that shows the world exactly why Beyoncé is still topping charts and influencing the entire music industry. “Cowboy Carter” is a turning point that raises the bar for all musicians. This album is not just music — it is a prideful reclamation of a genre stolen from the Black community.

“Cowboy Carter” seamlessly blends a multitude of genres with an overarching country influence, consistently adhering to a theme of the repossession of country music’s origins. In an Instagram announcement, Beyoncé stated, “This ain’t a country album, this is a Beyoncé album” — perfectly hinting at the experimental body of work that lay ahead. From the unequivocally rap track “SPAGHETTII” to the Tina-Turner influenced rock anthem “YA YA,” Beyoncé does not need to confine her sound to to create cohesive work. “Cowboy Carter” marks 21 years since her debut solo album and R&B staple “Dangerously in Love,” proving that she is dedicated to a pursuit of musical exploration while staying true to herself.

The historical and cultural context of “Cowboy Carter” is vital to its appreciation, but the album’s musicality carries enough weight to make the work stand out. Unsurprisingly, Beyoncé’s jaw-dropping vocal agility allows her to take bold yet purposeful risks that differentiate this work from her previous album, “Act I: Renaissance.” Notably, in “American Requiem,” Beyoncé plays with different vocal sounds that may seem unsettling at first but ultimately add a distinctive layer that makes the track a chilling opener. In “II Most Wanted II,” both Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé display their extensive vocal ranges and take full advantage of the lower and higher registers. However, the opera break for “Caro Mio Ben” at the end of “Daughter” is the album’s standout vocal moment. Not only does Beyoncé seize this chance to display her classical training, but she specifically uses Italian to allude to the context of the cinematic track “SPAGHETTII” in relation to Western films.

The instrumentals, samples, and background tracks on “Cowboy Carter” are phenomenal and add to the underlying theme of reclamation. “RIIVERDANCE” features a repeated acoustic guitar riff combined with a house-inspired percussive beat that creates a unique blend of dance and country. There is also an added rhythmic layer reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s iconic nail-clicking beat, the influential country star’s signature sound. Similarly, “TYRANT” starts with a feel-good gospel introduction and quickly leads into a violin driven hip-hop percussion track. This sharp switch is a testament to Beyoncé’s ability to combine seemingly opposite genres in a single song. And while certainly not the last example, in the lead single “16 CARRIAGES,” each measure’s driving point is on the third beat, an unconventional choice that makes the song unforgettable.

Beyoncé collaborates with numerous artists on “Cowboy Carter,” with each feature adding originality and purpose to the work. Most representative of this careful choice are the four featured singers chosen for the “BLACKBIIRD” cover: Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Brittney Spencer, and Reyna Roberts. “Blackbird” is famously sung by The Beatles and was inspired by the Little Rock 9, acting as a testament to the spirit of the young Black women during the Civil Rights Movement. In this beautiful rendition of an adored song, Beyoncé and her four co-singers, all rising Black female country artists, acknowledge and honor the plight of Black women in America. Additionally, throughout the album, Beyoncé features Willie Nelson, a leader of the outlaw country subgenre in the 1960s, who served as a reactionary force against the restrictive Nashville sound. What better person to have on an album dedicated to breaking genre boundaries than a leader of a sound rooted in resistance to the confining rules of country music?

Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” serves as a reminder for how music can act as a force for community-based strength and progress. Featuring the best of her vocal talent, rapping on par with hip-hop giants, and carefully chosen and nuanced covers, Beyoncé has created a culturally defining and musically genius album. By incorporating an overarching country theme with a crucial yet oft-forgotten historical context, “Cowboy Carter” is a loud and proud cultural statement that sheds light on the true roots of country music.

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