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CowboyCarter.jpg

A Beyoncé Agnostic Reviews 'Cowboy Carter'

By Nate Parker | Celebrity | April 2, 2024 |

By Nate Parker | Celebrity | April 2, 2024 |


CowboyCarter.jpg

The Little Rock Nine were the first Black students enrolled in the Little Rock Central High School after the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision in 1957. We’ve all seen the photo of teenage Elizabeth Eckford being screamed at by a white bigot on her way to school. These brave students, defying illegal segregation at the risk of their lives, inspired Paul McCartney to pen “Blackbird” in 1968. It’s become one of the most enduring tracks off the White Album and, appropriately, was the first track I heard off Beyoncé’s latest album, Cowboy Carter. I’m not much of a modern country fan, and I’ve never listened to a Beyoncé album in my life — she’s incredibly talented, but pop and hip-hop aren’t my preferred genres — but like “Enter Sandman” was the gateway drug that hooked me on metal decades ago, “Blackbird” was the free taste that opened my mind and made listening to Cowboy Carter a necessity.

Genre purists will argue Cowboy Carter isn’t country. They have their reasons, but they’re mostly wrong. Ignoring the insinuations and blatantly racist arguments that a Black pop artist from Houston doesn’t belong under the same umbrella as Dolly Parton and Hank Williams — because they’re dumb arguments made by stupid people — it’s fair to say that some tunes don’t sound like anything on your local country station. They can’t be pigeonholed by a genre whose devotion to commercial conformity went stale years ago. But as the contemporary country movement of the 1990s was a popular shift from Hank Williams’s original country-western twang so Cowboy Carter is an evolutionary step forward from the pop-influenced sound that made Garth Brooks and Shania Twain household names.

For all its extravagance, guest vocals, and supreme confidence in Beyoncé’s talents as a performer, Cowboy Carter shows proper deference to its musical ancestors. “American Requiem” is a mix of gospel, country, and early 1970s rock with Creedence Clearwater roots. “16 Carriages” and “Protector” are classic country tunes about loving your kids and the struggles of life on the road. “Daughter” and Beyoncé’s version of “Jolene,” which no doubt had Jay-Z tugging at a too-tight collar, are fresh takes on the anger and jealousy that have inspired generations of country artists. My personal favorite is “II Most Wanted,” a duet with Miley Cyrus that sounds inspired by Fleetwood Mac and is bound to be a top wedding song selection for 2024.

Genre influences expand as the album goes on, and the country roots are a little harder to pick out. That’s not bad; all of our horizons could use a little stretching. Even if “II Hands II High” and “Tyrant” aren’t likely to be country singles, they’re still a great listen.

If there’s one thing I’m proud of as a father, it’s teaching my kids to give new flavors a fair chance. As a result, I’ve got a lad who’ll taste hot sauces that turn his face red and a daughter who loves salmon sashimi and raw oysters. The philosophy applies to music as well. It’s when we stop trying new things that we become old. Cowboy Carter isn’t your father’s country music. It’s not even mine. But it might be a watershed moment for the genre if younger artists seize the opportunity Beyoncé’s latest success provides. Linda Martell — the first commercially successful Black country artist, and one who also transitioned to the genre after establishing herself as an R&B artist — Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson believe in Beyoncé enough to appear on Cowboy Carter. I’m not dumb enough to argue with that sort of talent.