Beyoncé explores music history

“Jolene” is a reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s 1973 original; It is preceded by “Dolly P,” a spoken-word interlude from Parton. “Do you remember that slut with the pretty hair I sang about?” “He reminded me of someone I used to know, except she had flaming brown locks,” she says, referring to Sorry’s “Becky with the good hair!” from the 2016 film Lemonade. He hurts himself.” Beyoncé’s version, of course, is very much Beyoncé’s version—there’s no cringing and pleading for this woman to step down; it’s a warning. Perhaps the clearest Beyoncé predecessor on this album is Linda Martell, the first black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry.

Martell’s landmark 1970 record “Color Me Country” should be considered country law; It offered black women a rare insight into a stereotyped genre associated with whiteness. She also appears twice in “Cowboy Carter”, first providing an explanation about the country’s complex origins in “Spaghettii”. “Species are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” She says while laughing. “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.” Shared dates and families abound in Beyoncé’s song “Cowboy Carter”: “Protector” opens with Beyoncé’s daughter Rumi Carter asking for ” Lullaby Please,” leading into a wailing riff from an acoustic ballad centered around motherhood. If listeners placed “Chapter Two: Cowboy Carter” next to “Chapter One: Renaissance,” they might view the recording as an ongoing dialogue in Beyoncé’s mythology: “Lemonade “Prove Beyoncé’s dedication to black empowerment.

“Renaissance” reclaimed the house music of its black predecessors in a sprawling release that put techno, Chicago, Detroit house, New Orleans pound, Afrobeats, queer dance culture and beyond on the same dance floor — and highlighted the frequent invisibility of black performance in the music history books. “Cowboy Carter” does something similar with country music — and in true Beyoncé fashion, extends it beyond that, as ship, captain and crew on this journey. “Bodyguard” limits on soft rocks; “Ya Ya” interpolates Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking” and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”; “Riverdance” and “II Hands II Heaven” bring back the electronica of “Renaissance.” “ll Most Wanted” showcases Miley Cyrus’ rich, raw personality and takes on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” “Levii’s Jeans” updates the timeless mix of R&B and country songs, amplified by a surprise collaborator on the song Post Malone — lest we forget he also hails from Texas.

“Oh Louisiana” is helium-injected blues and funk. The classical guitars in “Daughter” lead to Beyoncé singing the famous Italian song “Caro Mio Ben” in the original language. If you’ve been waiting for her operatic moment, here it is. When she returns to English in a refrain, she declares, “If you get over me, I’m just like my daddy / I’m colder than the water of the Titanic,” reminiscent of outlaw country murder songs and the successor to Bee Pie’s first ever country song, “Daddy’s Lessons” from “Lemonade”.

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