fri 19/07/2024

Album: Beyoncé - Cowboy Carter | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Beyoncé - Cowboy Carter

Album: Beyoncé - Cowboy Carter

So much more than an Country album

Queen Bey of the Rodeo

The second act of a trilogy, launched with “Renaissance” (2022), Beyoncé’s latest release has been loudly proclaimed as her “Country” album. In a tradition of surprising and controversial self-reinventions that includes among others Bob Dylan’s gospel albums and Ray Charles’s “Modern Sounds in Country and Western” (1962), the superstar has once again broken the rules of genre, and done her own all-too-remarkable thing – with the usual brilliance and panache.

Of course, this is so much more than a Country album, even though she's surrounded herself with some of the top black Country singers,including Linda Martell, Tiera Kennedy and Tanner Adell, hired pedal steel supremo Robert Randolph, banjo and fiddle mountain music queen Rhiannon Giddens, invited Willie Nelson to introduce a couple of tracks, and delivers a witty re-tread of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. Beyoncé is one hell of a sophisticate, when it comes to making music that draws on a mind-blowing range of influences, references artists as diverse as Son House, Buffalo Springfield, the Beach Boys, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Beatles.  This is an album that glitters with an ability to cross EDM and house with hoe-down bounciness, bluegrass energy with the heart-lifting spirit of gospel.

In other hands this could produce an uneasy hot-potch, but “Bey” pulls it off, surrounded by a host of the very best producers, and like-minded youngsters such as Shaboozey or Post Malone, who get as much of a kick from mixing it as she does.  Besides, the idea that country and R & B are in some way mutually exclusive, as Nashville cats or LA hip-hop purists might have it, is so wide off the mark, when you accept that from the roots of rock’n’roll on – and indeed all the way back to the first moments slaves played music with white mountain men – there’s been an immensely creative musical conversation between communities and cultures that are often seen as poles apart, and sometimes violent opposition.  To name just one example, Sixties Soul and Country were more than close cousins: from the slow waltzing rhythm of ballads, to a sensual longing close to sentimentality that characterised vocal styles.

Escaping from the constraints of genre is fundamental to American music – the idea of the melting pot, for all the racism that tears community apart does reflect the rich diversity of the USA. Beyoncé inhabits that swirling world with almost supernatural gifts. Her singing displays extraordinary range, textural variety and control. This is an album that delights with variety and invention. And yet…. It's almost too brilliant, close at times to being a victim of its own pyrotechnics. It’s not easy to identify what might be missing – but it could be a certain vulnerability, the acknowledgment of humanity’s intrinsic fallibility. Or might it be that beneath the extraordinary surface, there's a kind of emptiness. Having said that, this is music that elicits a mountain of thrills and pleasure, and a danceability that’s difficult to resist.

An album that delights with variety and invention


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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