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Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Is Here: Our First Impressions

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A woman in red white and blue clothes, with a sash reading 'Cowboy Carter,' sitting side saddle on a horse and holding an American flag
It turns out that Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ is much more than the country album that fans expected. (Parkwood Entertainment)

Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is here — the artist’s eighth studio album and second in a trilogy to reclaim the overlooked Black contributions to American music. Of course, we devoured it as soon as it dropped. Hours after its release, here are some first impressions.

This Ain’t Country

So yeah, Beyoncé didn’t lie: this ain’t a country album. Beyoncé is better at telegraphing country music than encapsulating it, anyway. On “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the signifiers are off. A country song wouldn’t need to specify you’re headed to a dive bar, since every bar in a country song is a dive bar, and you certainly wouldn’t need to say you “always thought” it was “nice.” That’s the girl in Ghost World who thinks the local diner is “sooo… you know… funky!

Charlie Parker, the jazz saxophonist, was once asked why he liked listening to country radio; “The stories,” he replied, “listen to the stories.” Are there story songs on Cowboy Carter? Not many. Are there country songs, even? Not many. But what’s there is something even bigger and broader: Americana and indie-ish songs, a rap song, an opera aria, a whole lotta other stuff like Jersey Club and Son House and the Beach Boys, all in a big, ambitious swirling mix, greater than the sum of its parts.

Anyway, Beyoncé already wrote a great country song years ago. It has a car, a box of old stuff, and a cheating boyfriend. It’s called “Irreplaceable.”—Gabe Meline

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How They Made Me: Houston Texas, Baby

In reality, Beyoncé never stopped being country — from the autobiographical Lemonade track “Daddy Lessons,” which she performed at the 2016 Country Music Awards with the Chicks, to the Southern ancestry of “Formation,” her Creole roots have always been essential to her musical identity.

“Spaghettii” establishes this idea at the center of the album. The track opens with a clip of Linda Martell, who many credit as the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music. “Genres are a funny little concept,” she says. “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined.” Beyoncé then raps over a Brazilian funk sample: “They call me the captain, the catwalk assassin / When they know it’s slappin’, then here come the yappin’,” referring to her haute couture getups and this album’s inevitable discourse.

Martell returns to introduce “Ya Ya”: “This particular tune stretches across a range of genres, and that’s what makes it a unique listening experience.” That may be the best description of Cowboy Carter – a journey that Beyoncé takes the listener on, beyond the realm of pop, R&B and country.—Ugur Dursun

Sometimes tha Side Chick Ain’t Even a Chick, It’s the Gorgeous and Proud Nation of Ireland

Ireland is having a hot streak: Cillian Murphy won an Oscar, the people’s princess Ayo Edebiri and normal person Paul Mescal maybe or maybe not announced a relationship and/or a movie on St. Patrick’s Day, Hozier released a new song, and now Beyonce’s “Riiverdance.”

Anyways. The reason why I was so taken by Renaissance – and why listening to Cowboy Carter is such a journey – is because I’m listening to years and years of music references, collaborations, genres and history woven together in something so sharp, thoughtful and rich. I just can’t wait to read essays about every production choice and homage in this album – every detail, every lyric about the life of a country singer, every little clack of her nails. I love learning!

Aaah, these sweeping, choir-sounding cinematic qualities of the album, like “Ameriican Requiem!” Damn, it’s such a cool, excellent piece of work. (It’s why I’m just going to ignore “Jolene” real hard (sorry sorry sorry sorry.))—Nisa Khan

Beyoncé as Guardian and ‘Protector’

I wasn’t sure what to expect after the foot-stomping radio single “Texas Hold ’Em,” but wow — the harmonies. From opening track “Ameriican Requiem” and throughout Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé envelops us in wispy layers of her vocals, which feel as expansive as looking up at a night sky somewhere down a winding back road. Much like how I was dazzled by the stripped-down opening of her Renaissance tour, I love when Beyoncé reminds us that, beyond her maximalist showmanship, she’s built this empire because she can really sing.

Even at 27 tracks, Cowboy Carter doesn’t feel bloated. Amid the wide range of styles, and the nods to both mainstream country icons and unsung heroes, a new theme reveals itself: Beyoncé tapping into her strength as a defender and guardian of the vulnerable. She embodies that beautifully on “Protector,” a delicately strummed ballad dedicated to her children. On “Daughter,” she shows the aggressive side of that same energy: “If you cross me, I’m just like my father / I am colder than titanic waters.” In past work, Beyoncé has often embodied an archetypal femininity of being gazed upon and wanted. It’s cool seeing her in the driver’s seat here, shotgun in her lap.—Nastia Voynovskaya

The Fresno Family Station Wagon

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Beyoncé and I go way back to when I had no bills. Whenever my Christian parents went shopping, I’d sit in the family station wagon and turn the radio dial past Central Valley country stations to B95, Fresno’s hip-hop hits powerhouse. Cowboy Carter comes full circle for me. So many Black and brown Americans live in rural areas inundated by white country radio hits, and maybe a single hip-hop station. Beyoncé links the two in this album. The dreamy wails of “Ameriican Requiem,” the backseat road trip feel of “Bodyguard,” the operatic tones of “Daughter,” the reclaiming of “Jolene” — I walked San Francisco’s meandering avenues, listening last night and feeling like I was back in my parent’s rusted silver car, flipping through the stations. What lingers is the spaghetti Beyoncé’s thrown at the wall: a fun genre-bending concept where she isn’t afraid to show her scars.—Ezra David Romero

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