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The best stories being published on the SNO Sites network

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Album Review | Beyoncé’s “RENAISSANCE” is no Tough Act to Follow for “COWBOY CARTER”

Cover image of “Act ll: Cowboy Carter” by Beyonce. (Parkwood Entertainment/TNS)

The highly anticipated second act in Beyoncé’s three part musical project “RENAISSANCE”, “COWBOY CARTER” debuted and broke Spotify’s streaming records on March 29. 

The newly released “COWBOY CARTER” hones in on country, bluegrass, and folk music and strays away from the high energy, underground ball culture (pageant competitions forged in the intersectionality of marginalized LGBTQ+, black, and latino groups) inspired music of its predecessor, “RENAISSANCE”. “COWBOY CARTER”, like its dance/house sister album, uses its 27 song tracklist as an exploration and reclamation of genres, in this case country and folk, with roots in black culture which has arguably been largely washed away and become synonymous with whiteness in America.

In the album’s opener, ”AMERIICAN REQUIEM”, Beyoncé uses her dynamic vocals in conjunction with acoustic instruments as a vessel to set up the album’s themes of liberation for herself and her ancestors, and additionally rehash her infamous 2016 Country Music Awards experience where she received immense backlash for performing her country song “Daddy Lessons” and bringing the Chicks, who were socially black-listed for anti-Iraq and anti-Bush sentiments, onstage.

She immediately follows the patriotic ballad with ”BLACKBIIRD”, a cover of the Beatles song about the Little Rock Nine. This song features ​​black singers Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, and Tiera Kennedy. Beyoncé’s collaboration with these artists further emphasizes the original song’s themes of black women’s resilience during the civil rights movement and beyond. The album’s through line of faith and maintaining hope takes motifs that country music was founded in and rekindles them. 

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Similarly, the album includes various interludes featuring country stars such as Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton in “SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON” and “DOLLY P”. The format in which they are presented intends to mimic a radio station. The interludes pay homage to these pillars in the country music scene and in a way show camaraderie to critics who believe that Beyoncé doesn’t belong in the community

“COWBOY CARTER” is an interpolation-heavy album yet it doesn’t feel uninspired or dull, rather it feels full of life. It is unapologetic and nuanced in its exploration of the relationship between black culture, America, and patriotism. The culture of country music’s exclusionary nature was referenced by Beyoncé in songs such as “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” where she is not considered “country enough” despite her background. This was an issue highlighted in 2016 and is something Beyoncé references unabashedly, reinforcing how much effort she gave to receive the treatment she received. She has received criticism for bringing the incident up in the first place, reducing the album to being a critique of award shows, but this is simply a shallow straw man argument which misrepresents the true nature of the album: navigating the intricacies between identity and love for one’s country. 

As mentioned by the proclaimed Queen Bey and her marketing campaign, at its core, this is a Beyoncé album and not a country album: this is what makes it work. Tracks such as “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’” remind listeners of this. It takes acoustic and bass guitars and blends them with modern beats and marries the musical tapestry Beyoncé weaves using her Texan and Louisiana roots. She features musicians such as Shaboozey and Pharrell Williams whose voices blend exceptionally well with both the fast paced Sweet and Buckin’ sections and the mellow swing step Honey section in the center of the song. 
Beyoncé returned from her six year hiatus to her solo career with the announcement of a three act “RENAISSANCE” project in 2022 and after the second installment, fans are left wanting more.

This story was originally published on The Raider Voice on April 7, 2024.