In her own words: “This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago, where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t. But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of country music, and studied our rich musical archive. It feels good to see how music can unite so many people around the world, while also amplifying the voices of some of the people who have dedicated so much of their lives educating on our musical history. The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me. Act ii is a result of challenging myself, and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.” ~ Beyoncé

“This ain’t a country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album.” ~ Also Beyoncé.

When the songs Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages were released and climbed the charts, making Beyoncé the first black woman with the number one single on the hot country songs chart, she thanked her fans and supporters and went on to say, “My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist’s race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant.”

COWBOY CARTER is hands down one of the most amazing and meaningful records I’ve ever heard. It’s finest at its finest. THAT VOICE, the music, songs, songwriting, recording, collabs, guests, ensemble, singing, instrumentation, production, arrangements, story, education, and eloquently and unapologetically being the most true to herself and anyone who cares to care, Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is best heard the first time in chronological order, to get the nuances and flow of one cut to the next, especially at certain junctures. Not only with the musicality, but with the way she traverses through each deliberate moment, making point after point, whether subtly or not. It’s a history lesson; more specifically Black history, and I’m grateful to Beyonce for bringing this to the long-needed forefront. The more you listen, the more you understand. I encourage you to take a turn listening while simultaneously watching via Beyoncé’s official YouTube (pro tip – use your best option for speakers or headphones).

This record is a whole new level up, and Beyoncé brings so many people along with her on the journey, not only in who is on the record which is amazing enough, but in who will be impacted by its very presence (hint – everyone who recognizes the depth of meaning in it). Beyonce is reclaiming the right to be in the <country music> room, and being that she is Queen Bey, she can singularly do this for the masses and that right there is PIVOTAL. Beyoncé is not only standing on the shoulders of those who came before her, but paying homage, and giving them the grace and honor they so deserve. So many guest artists join her, but I would particularly like to highlight Linda Martell and Beyoncé giving voice to her journey. Born in 1941, and raised in the segregated south, Linda Martell became the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music and she was the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry stage despite years of racism and discrimination in her life and career. There is a documentary in the works about Martell, and I hope Beyoncé helps make it happen.

There are so many people that could say this better than me, but I’m completely swept away by Cowboy Carter, and doing my best to share the reasons why. I think the legacy of this record will be the manifestation of a turning point in bringing a sense of justice to so many who came before Beyoncé. Those who never got the credit or accolades for music they knew was true to their heritage and upbringing, but yet they were not welcomed by the masses. That changes now, and forever. I hope.

Oh and guess what? Spoiler. No one OWNS a genre.

We all saw blatant racism from *some* out there – when Beyoncé released Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages, and I’m seeing it again with the release of the full album, as if she has no right to put out country music or country inspired music. Um. Really? WHY? Tell me WHY? WHY CAN’T SHE? Who is anyone to say that? I don’t want to give this too much oxygen, but I have less than zero tolerance for it, and I encourage people to check any comments like that at the door and really *think* about what they’re saying. We’re used to so-called “societal norms” about music genres, where people have been expected to “stay in their lane”. I call BS on that, and I’m so glad more people are doing the same, especially Beyoncé who has the power to truly shift the tide. Actually, I’d rather let Rhiannon Giddens explain it from here. She breaks the racism down inside of one minute, and all I can say is MIC DROP. Oh and yeah, that’s Rhiannon Giddens playing the banjo on Texas Hold ‘Em (plus viola later in the song). The two-time Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning singer/instrumentalist/composer, MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient might just know what she’s talking about. She is an educator/advocate focusing on lifting up those throughout American music history who have been overlooked or erased, and being a foremost advocate for a more accurate understanding of this country’s musical origins.

I can’t even express enough how much I love COWBOY CARTER and everything around it. Beyoncé is not only taking the reiins (see what I did there?) in leading the charge, she’s taking the stampede right through the future of history. People will be talking about this record for decades, and it will be studied in-depth. Cowboy Carter defies genre with ranges from country to rap to pop to opera, and more. It’s so genius, it turns genre on its head and spins it around and as Jon Batiste (who helped write and produce Ameriican Requiem) said in his Facebook post this week, “This is the moment yall, where we dismantle the genre machine.”

Like I said in a post on social, there is a LOT to unpack on Cowboy Carter, and I’m here for all of it. With 27 tracks, and so many layers and meanings, it will take a while and many hours of listening, so don’t be surprised if I add to this piece or write more. As Victor Blackwell said on CNN, it’s “culturally conscious music”, while the official press release from Parkwood Entertainment (Beyoncé’s film and production company, record label and management firm) calls it “A no holds barred multi-genre nod to Americana country culture”. SO well put. And as Beyoncé hinted at during the Super Bowl, she’d pretty much be breaking the internet with this record, and that continued when the album dropped. Cue the massive amounts of media centered around it, and I truly TRULY hope that people GET IT. But to allay any potential non-factual info, thought I’d share the official press release, along with this excerpt:

“COWBOY CARTER, executive produced by Beyoncé, is about genres, all of them, while deeply rooted in Country. This is the work of an artist who thrives in her freedom to grow, expand, and create limitlessly. It makes no apologies, and seeks no permission in elevating, amplifying, and redefining the sounds of music, while dismantling accepted false norms about Americana culture. It pays homage to the past, honoring musical pioneers in Country, Rock, Classical, and Opera.”

Beyoncé covers BLACKBIRD, renaming it Blackbiird), and I have to honestly admit here, I didn’t know the meaning behind the song till now. Did you?? Paul McCartney originally wrote it about the civil rights movement, and specifically the Little Rock Nine. How did I get to 61 years old not knowing that? Thank you Beyoncé and Paul McCartney for this long awaited resurgence of history in song. And whether you knew all along or are just today year’s old, anything that brings this important part of history to the forefront so that it is not forgotten is a good thing. Beyoncé features four rising Black female country artists on the song, further bringing the point home of taking their place at the table. I hope this new version helps tower over all the hate and racism that is out there, especially the whitewashing of Black history in Florida and beyond.

Every song on the record is SO good. I have my favorites so far. How about you? Here are some of mine and I imagine this list will need an update after about the 30th listen…
BLACKBIIRD
16 CARRIAGES
PROTECTOR
TEXAS HOLD ‘EM (of course!)
BODYGUARD
JOLENE (including the intro in only the way Dolly P could do it)
SPAGHETTII
JUST FOR FUN
MOST WANTED (with Miley Cyrus)
YA YA
RIIVERDANCE

Lots of additional surprises on the who’s who on the record, with more continuing to revealing themselves. Who we know is on it or involved in some way so far, according to the Hollywood Reporter: Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Linda Martell, Stevie Wonder, Chuck Berry, Mylie Cyrus, Post Malone, Jon Batiste (produced and wrote for Ameriican Requiem), Rhiannon Giddens (you KNOW that banjo on Texas Hold ‘Em is all Rhiannon), Nile Rodgers, Robert Randolph, Gary Clark, Jr., Willie Jones, Brittney Spencer, Shaboozey, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy.

Another excerpt from the official Cowboy Carter press release:
“The joy of creating music is that there are no rules,” says Beyoncé. “The more I see the world evolving the more I felt a deeper connection to purity. With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments, and I used very old ones. I didn’t want some layers of instruments like strings, especially guitars, and organs perfectly in tune. I kept some songs raw and leaned into folk. All the sounds were so organic and human, everyday things like the wind, snaps and even the sound of birds and chickens, the sounds of nature.”

(Update: April 6th: So glad to see Beyonce has now added full album credits. Glad I wasn’t imagining that I was hearing “For What It’s Worth” in Ameriican Requiem, and YES she used it by permission.)

COWBOY CARTER TRACK LIST: (If you haven’t figured it out already, “ii” is intentional, as in “act ii”)
1. AMERIICAN REQUIEM
2. BLACKBIIRD
3. 16 CARRIAGES
4. PROTECTOR
5. MY ROSE
6. SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON
7. TEXAS HOLD ‘EM
8. BODYGUARD
9. DOLLY P
10. JOLENE
11. DAUGHTER
12. SPAGHETTII
13. ALLIIGATOR TEARS
14. SMOKE HOUR II
15. JUST FOR FUN
16. II MOST WANTED
17. LEVII’S JEANS
18. FLAMENCO
19. THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW
20. YA YA
21. OH LOUISIANA
22. DESERT EAGLE
23. RIIVER DANCE
24. II HANDS II HEAVEN
25. TYRANT
26. SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’
27. AMEN

The following hashtags are from the official press release:

#COWBOYCARTER

#TEXASHOLDEM

#16CARRIAGES

#RODEOCHITLINCIRCUIT

#BEYONCE

More links….

Official press release from Beyoncé’s production company Parkwood Entertainment: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/beyonce-releases-cowboy-carter-302103396.html

About Linda Martell: https://people.com/who-is-linda-martell-country-singer-beyonce-album-8621868

More about Blackbiird: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2024/mar/29/a-new-moment-to-arise-beyonce-cover-of-the-beatles-blackbird-is-a-timely-masterstroke-cowboy-carter

About Blackbird/Beyoncé/Paul:
https://youtu.be/XIX5lTQB1YM?si=IxTjgviyCzx3McRZ

Blackbird: The Beatles song inspired by the Little Rock Nine:
https://youtu.be/K_S6rpDJ8FI?si=P7c6o91o9S_dwUoQ

More on the featured four Black female country artists on Blackbiird:
https://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/music/2024/03/28/beyonces-blackbird-cover-features-quartet-of-black-country-artists/73139835007/

More surprise guests:
https://www.stereogum.com/2257566/the-war-on-drugs-nickel-creek-raye-more-contributed-to-beyonces-cowboy-carter/news/

Dolly talking in 2022 about how she would love it if Beyoncé covered Jolene:
https://www.facebook.com/thedailyshow/videos/1878378815926380

More on Rhiannon Giddens:
Huge congrats to Rhiannon who has worked tirelessly over many years on her mission to bring the deep and real history of the banjo to the forefront. She has done more for educating/enlightening people on the history than probably anyone in our time, and now millions more will likely learn thanks to the Beyoncé effect. IYKYK, but if you don’t know, the banjo originates from Africa and the Caribbean. I’ll drop a bunch of links below where you can see lots more on Rhiannon’s work, both music and education/history, as well as Bela Fleck’s documentary exploring the history of the banjo. (Also, do yourself a favor and look up Rhiannon on YouTube where you can see amazing videos, like her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, and playing with Paul Simon at Newport, collab with Yo-Yo Ma, and SO much more.) She’s won a Grammy, a Pulitzer Prize, and more. Many of us first heard Rhiannon from The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group she and Dom Flemons were in together. I’ll also drop a link from a clip I videoed at folk fest 2013 of the group covering the song Jackson.

Rhiannon Giddens mic drop statement on backlash over Beyoncé’s record:
https://www.billboard.com/culture/tv-film/rhiannon-giddens-beyonce-cowboy-carter-slams-backlash-1235638538/

Rhiannon Giddens on the history and music of the banjo:
https://rhiannongiddens.com/all-resources

Rhiannon Giddens featured on CBS Sunday Morning:
https://youtu.be/vcRwknFaoNU?si=bzmmLkokC1XGiefE