It's a 'Masterpiece' by Beyoncé, Though Nashville May Disagree

New album 'Cowboy Carter' has twang but is not strictly country, say critics
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 29, 2024 7:50 AM CDT
It's a 'Masterpiece' by Beyoncé, Though Nashville May Disagree
This cover image released by Parkwood/Columbia/Sony shows “Act ll: Cowboy Carter” by Beyonce.   (Parkwood/Columbia/Sony via AP)

Enter the era of Cowboy Carter. Released Friday at midnight, Beyoncé's eighth album, and the second in a trilogy, provides country music—and much, much more. "This ain't a country album. This is a 'Beyoncé' album," the artist said last week on Instagram, noting the album was "born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed." Many conclude this is in reference to her performance with the Chicks at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards, which received racist backlash. "The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me," Beyoncé said, adding she worked "to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work." Four takes:

  • There are cameos by Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, who introduces Beyoncé's version of her classic "Jolene," but it's "far broader than simply a country album," writes Ben Sisario at the New York Times. "'Desert Eagle' is glistening funk, and the upbeat 'Bodyguard' would not be out of place on a modern rock radio station." Then there's the cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," a duet with Black female country singer Tanner Adell, and hints of the Beach Boys on "Ya Ya." Miley Cyrus features on "II Most Wanted," and Post Malone on "Levii's Jeans." "The album's range suggests a broad essay on contemporary pop music, and on the nature of genre itself," writes Sisario.
  • It's "a rebuttal to anyone who doubted that Beyoncé belonged in country music," writes Steven J. Horowitz at Variety. The 27-track, 80-minute album "toys with the conventions of what country can be" and infuses it "with tropes and signifiers from other genres." "'Jolene' gets revamped with new, fiery lyrics"—there's no pleading here—while Beyoncé's daughter Rumi Carter is heard at the start of "Protector," described as "a deeply resonant ode" to Beyoncé's children. Ultimately it's "a record with ambitions as big as its accomplishments," writes Horowitz.

  • "A major statement," the album boasts "fantastic" songs including "Daughter," with a "burst of 18th-century opera," and "16 Carriages," whose vocal "carries the distinctive patterns of rap," writes Alexis Petridis at the Guardian. "It's all incredibly well done and hugely entertaining, but the sense that the album is clinging on to its original concept by its fingernail—throwing in the odd lyric about rhinestones or whisky and the occasional intimation of pedal steel guitar—is hard to avoid." Then again, "perhaps its wild lurches into eclecticism are the point," writes Petridis. "It displays its author's ability to bend musical styles to her will."
  • "I think it's a masterpiece, but don't expect to hear it at the Grand Ole' Opry any time soon," writes Neil McCormick at the Telegraph, noting Beyoncé "has come not to pay homage to country music but to transform it." The result is "dazzling, genre-defying songcraft, a twisted and magnificent psychedelic shapeshifting folk-rock hip-hop broadside against the conservatism of the country genre." It's "another huge demonstration of the range and skill of a vastly popular commercial artist who keeps getting bolder and weirder with every release."
(More music stories.)

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