Beyoncé blurs lines in ‘COWBOY CARTER’

Beyoncé released her new album ‘COWBOY CARTER,’ a 27-track country album filled with genre-subverting tracks and features from both older country legends and modern pop-stars. // Photo courtesy of Blair Caldwell

Beyoncé may have released her newest album three days before April Fool’s Day, but “COWBOY CARTER” is no joke. 

The world-renowned “Queen Bey” returns to her Texan roots with the 27-track country album filled with genre-blending tracks, impressive features and no shortage of the talented vocals that make her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. On the day of its release, “COWBOY CARTER” became the most-streamed album in a single day so far this year. 

Despite the clearly white-dominated audience and artist pool, Black musicians have been central to the country music genre from the very beginning, from instrumentals to vocal techniques. 

In the early 17th century, the instrument that would later become the modern banjo was brought to America from West Africa by slaves. Eventually, the first white banjo player learned from slaves before standardizing the instrument’s design, and the banjo became a key feature in minstrel shows. 

The music of the country genre  was originally based on things like slave spirituals and field songs (often with a call-and-response format), as well as the swelling sounds of Black gospel music before white musicians adopted the styles and quickly took over the genre in later years. 

To this day, country music is dominated by white musicians, with the 20 years between 2000 and 2020 showing that only 29% of radio country music was created by Black artists, and of that 29%,only 0.01% were women. With “COWBOY CARTER,” Beyoncé adds her name to the genre in a lengthy yet stylistically expansive collection of songs. 

The album opens with “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” a five-minute track that begins with soulful harmonies and a backing organ that immediately creates a gospel feeling. Throughout the song, psychedelic rock-sounding guitar riffs combine with the vocal stylings of country and soul to create a clear “introduction” reminiscent of the late artist Prince. 

From there, she moves into the first of several covers on the album, a rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” (which is called “BLACKBIIRD” on the album). The song overlays the original Beatles’ instrumental track and features four Black female country artists: Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts. 

She then moves back into original songs, with “16 CARRIAGES” exploring Beyoncé’s journey in the music industry. The next feature on the album appears several tracks later in “PROTECTOR,” which features an introduction by Rumi Carter, the singer’s six-year-old daughter. As a whole, the album is full of cameos by country legends like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Linda Martell, and modern artists like Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. 

As the 10th song, Beyoncé debuts her own reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” which takes a bit of a different approach to the potential adulteress. While Parton’s original version pleads with the famed Jolene not to steal “her man,” Beyoncé’s rendition warns her to stay away, defending the strength of her relationship and almost daring the other woman to see what will happen if she tries to get in between them. 

Immediately following the cover, Beyoncé reminds listeners that, under everything, she is still a classically trained singer by featuring the beloved Italian
aria “Caro Mio Ben.” 

This song has been carried through generations of classical singers with the deep emotions of devotion and anguish for a lover. Beyoncé sings the song in its original opera smoothly, hitting all of the operatic notes seemingly with ease. It is easily one of the most unexpected yet impressive vocal displays of the album. 

Anyone relatively versed in music can hear the influence of various artists throughout the album, from Stevie Nicks to the Beach Boys to Tina Turner to Chuck Berry, as well as some outright samples from songs including “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” and “Good Vibrations.” 

Beyoncé’s determination to muddy the lines between clear-cut genres is also constant as she blends the country base with funk baselines, house beats, violin melodies and R&B vocals. 

She also peppers little “interludes” every few songs, with Willie Nelson DJing the fictional “KNTRY radio” station. These 30 to 50-second interval tracks act as transitions between some of the songs, tying them all together.

The album’s closing song, “AMEN,” brings some elements of “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” back from the very beginning, solidifying the track as a smart closer and creating a sense of finality, neatly wrapping the album up.

Alongside the album’s  release, Beyoncé confidently asserted that it “ain’t a country album, [it’s] a Beyoncé album,” a claim that might truly be the
only way to describe it. Over the span of 27 songs, the iconic artist once again shows not only her vocal prowess but also her attention to detail,  creating something that surpasses one singular genre. “COWBOY CARTER” is available to stream on Apple Music and Spotify.