7 first impressions of Beyoncé’s new ‘Cowboy Carter’ album – Hartford Courant

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By Jon Bream, Star Tribune

Beyoncé, “Act II: Cowboy Carter” (Parkwood/Columbia)

“This ain’t a country album,” the Grammy-grabbing megastar warned on social media. “This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.”

To quell the concerns generated by its title and album cover depicting Beyoncé in red, white and blue Western gear riding on a horse, she turned to Linda Martell, a pioneering Black woman in country music, to deliver two spoken interludes on “Cowboy Carter.”

“In theory, [genres] have a simple definition that’s easy to understand,” Martell says before “Spaghettii” (Beyoncé uses double ii, as in “Act II,” throughout song titles). “But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

Before “Ya Ya,” Martell explains, “This tune stretches across a range of genres. That’s what make it a unique listening experience.”

A unique listening experience would be an apt way to describe “Cowboy Carter,” which was released at midnight Friday.

After one late-night listen, here is a first glance at the sprawling 27-track, 78-minute opus.

1. Despite the presence of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Martell making spoken-word introductions, this is indeed not a country album. In fact, gospel influences are more pervasive, whether organ, choral harmonies or heavenly lyrics. However, there are plenty of country sensibilities in the words, with mentions of Texas, Alabama, Arizona, coyotes, deserts, cornbread, rodeo, horses, a mechanical bull and the Marlboro man.

2. Two high-profile guests join Queen Bey. Post Malone adds a rap/sung verse on “Levii’s Jeans,” a catchy flirtation set to rhythmic guitar with choral harmonies, and Miley Cyrus duets with Beyoncé on “II Most Wanted” (as in “two most wanted”) about a young-ish couple with the come-hither singer promising “I’ll be your shotgun rider till the day I die.”

3. There are two covers: a lovely rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbiird” featuring a backup choir of female Black country singers Brittany Spencer, Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts and Tiera Kennedy, and a reworking of Parton’s “Jolene,” showcasing a heartfelt vocal over a repetitive guitar figure with additional lyrics including “I know I’m a queen, Jolene/ Just a Creole banjee bitch from Louisianne.”

4. The most overtly country song on the record is the gently galloping, thigh-slapping, line dancing “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the previously released first single that has already been a streaming sensation.

5. The Houston-reared Beyoncé claps back at those who don’t think she has country roots. “Ameriican Requiem,” the opening track, asserts her country bona fides and challenges, “If that ain’t country, tell me what it is.” And she serves don’t-mess-with-me notice in “Daughter,” describing herself as “the furthest thing from choir boys” and “colder than Titanic water.” Be warned.

6. Some selections come across as good ideas not fully developed, notably the breathy R&B “Desert Eagle,” the stoner country blues “Alliigator Tears” and the gospely “Flamenco.”

7. The last third of the overlong album traffics in genre mashups that, on first blush, feel more experimental than fully cooked. “Ya Ya” is a gumbo with elements of girl group harmonies, soul clapping, funk-rock stomp and R&B sendup as well as samples of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin’.” Got that?

“Oh Louisiana” sounds like Chuck Berry with chipmunk-like sped-up vocals. “Tyrant” pairs a country fiddle with hip-hop and a “giddy up” lyric. Despite its horse theme, “Sweet Honey Buckiin’” travels all over the place from a Patsy Cline melody to double-dutch clapping and a Beyoncé rap. Perhaps the most appealing genre-blender, “Riiverdance,” comes across like Irish R&B, mixing a sassy vocal, a hooky groove and a banjo line.

Those are some instant impressions. Like Beyoncé’s previous two opuses, “Cowboy Carter” needs time to marinate.


©2024 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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