‘Cowboy Carter’ Review: Beyoncé’s Country Is America. Every Bit of It.

If Beyoncé had merely wanted to make mainstream country hits, she could have hired a seasoned Nashville producer and had her pick of expert Music Row songwriters. But “Cowboy Carter” has different aspirations, and Beyoncé brought her own brain trust, including producers known for hip-hop and R&B. “This ain’t a Country album. This is a Beyoncé album,” she wrote on Instagram. That’s true.

“Cowboy Carter” leans into its anticipated discourse, openly interrogating categories and stereotypes and pointedly ignoring formulas. With historical savvy, Beyoncé enlisted Linda Martell — the Black country singer whose 1970 album, “Color Me Country,” included the first charting country hit by a Black woman, “Color Him Father” — to provide spoken words. For the intro of “Spaghettii” — which features Beyoncé rapping — Martell says, “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? Yes, they are. In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

Beyoncé gathers young Black women currently striving for country careers — Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tiera Kennedy and Tanner Adell — on a remake of the Beatles’ veiled civil-rights song, “Blackbird.” It’s a careful gesture, though it might have been more substantial to write a new song with them.

The album includes some understated, largely acoustic contenders for country or adult-contemporary radio play — notably “II Most Wanted,” a duet with Miley Cyrus that harks back to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and “Levii’s Jeans,” a boast about being a “sexy little thing” that she shares with a besotted Post Malone. In the steady-thumping, Motown-tinged “Bodyguard,” Beyoncé plays an amorous, jealous but selfless partner in an uncertain romance. And in “Protector,” an acoustic-guitar lullaby, Beyoncé personifies a loving, supportive parent singing about “lifting you up so you will be raised.”

Beyoncé also reworks Parton’s “Jolene” — a country classic about a dangerous temptress — by turning it inside out. Where Parton’s 1973 original had her “begging” Jolene to stay away, in 2024 Beyoncé isn’t one to cede power. She starts out by “warning” Jolene and raises the threat level from there, reminding her target, “I know I’m a queen.”

Martell returns to introduce “Ya Ya,” explaining, “This particular tune stretches across a range of genres. And that’s what makes it a unique listening experience.” The song is a hand clapping, 1960s-flavored garage-rock stomp that samples Nancy Sinatra, quotes the Beach Boys and brandishes lines like “There’s a whole lot of red in that white and blue/History can’t be erased,” then moves on to dancing and lust. It’s not geared for any radio format. It’s just a romp.

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