New Music Friday 3/29: I Hear You Beyonce

Steven McCash reviews 'Cowboy Carter' by Beyonce on this edition of New Music Friday!

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Cowboy Carter is not a country album. It is in fact a great album. A phenomenal album. A tremendous album. Most importantly it is a Beyonce album. The Texas born singer even said so herself. 

In the opening to her new release Beyonce acknowledges how her last few albums were steeped in political views singing “It’s a lot of talking going on, while I sing my song” on “American Requiem.” Her sights are set on the injustices inside a certain side of the music business that has a deep history of shunning away amazing artist because of the color of their skin. 

Beyonce has come to say goodbye to the past miscarriages of justice to those who are of color in the country music as she buries the old traditions of the genre and ‘fair-weather friends’ and begins to settle into the house that never welcomed her. 

Some of country music’s most highly regarded legends lend their talents to Cowboy Carter. Willie Nelson stops by to a dj as set at KNTRY Radio Texas introducing “Just For Fun” and the toe-tapping banjo heavy “Texas Hold’Em” and another queen stops by to introduce what I like to call “Jolene (Beyonce’s Becky Version).” Dolly Parton has stated how much she loves the former Destiny Child singers take on her classic song about infidelity. 

Cowboy Carter is not her first time to dip her toe in the Nashville music scene. Her Peabody Award winning album Lemonade featured the country-esque “Daddy Issues” that would bring the Queen Bey to the 2016 Country Music Awards (CMA) to perform the song with some other ostracized female artist, The Dixie Chicks. Both performers were unwelcome by the gatekeepers of ‘old-country’ as the The Dixie Chicks, now known as just The Chicks, were blacklisted due to their criticism of President George W. Bush and the Iraq War and while no one would come right out and say it but it was very clear that Beyonce was not welcomed there for being….well….Beyonce. 

That experience was the lightning rod that has lead us to this moment. No one should go in thinking they are getting a true Nashville sounding country album from arguably the biggest name in music but instead another in a long line of perfectly thought out, articulated albums that continue to cement the brilliance that is the artist Beyonce.

When the album does cross the line into country it does so with no apologies at all as Beyonce is quick to put her vocal mastery on display. The beautiful “Daughter” takes me back to the early 70s when another outsider was ruling country music. Long before she left Nashville for her Pink Ladies jacket in Grease, Olivia Newton-John ruled country music before moving on to the pop world winning the Country Music Association Award in 1974 for Female Vocalist of the Year as well the 1973 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. 

The aforementioned song from the new album sparks memories of listening to “Changes” and “Where Are You Going To My Love?” from Olivia’s first two albums. In fact the two superstars have both covered Parton’s “Jolene” with the former Sandy Olsson recording it for her 1976 album Come On Over. The musical legend that reigns over Dollywood was not the only female singer with ties to Nashville to lend their talents to Cowboy Carter. Dolly’s goddaughter Miley Cyrus joins Beyonce on the Thelma & Louise inspired “II Most Wanted.” For years fans of Mrs. Carter and Lady Gaga have long been waiting for a “Telephone” part 2 and it is hard not to listen to the new collaboration and think what could have been. 

Covering a classic like “Jolene” is a ballsy move for any artist on a record but covering two of music’s most beloved songs on the same album is beyond risky. Beyonce put a Beyonce spin to the Dolly classic but delivered a true rendition of the Beatles classic “Blackbird.” Paul McCartney wrote the song in response to the Little Rock Nine incident and the overall state of the Civil Rights Movement at the time and the importance of Beyonce covering the song on this album cannot be overlooked.

While there are songs early on in listening to the album that displays Beyonce’s version of country there are then songs that remind who Beyonce truly is. “Spaghettii” is a full-fledged hip-hop song while “Ya Ya” with sampling help from Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” brings Beyonce’s inner-Tina Turner to the forefront on what is easily the albums best track. 

One can only hope that one of music’s biggest stars dipping their toe in the genre that made Nashville will help put the spotlight on the other amazingly talented country artists of color. More people should know the name and music of Allison Russell, Brittney Spencer, Breland, Yola, and Mickey Guyton. 

Steven McCash is the Lead Music Writer and Utility Man for SoBros Network. Steven is the host of the ‘Drinking With…’ podcast, and the pioneer of New Music Friday, highlighting each week’s new releases in the world of music in addition to the occasional live show review. He also pitches in as a Nashville lifestyle writer and football analyst (hence the ‘Utility Man’ title). Follow on Twitter: @MC_Cash75

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