Beyoncé’s Country Music Is a Different Kind of Personal: “TEXAS HOLD ’EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” Review

The post Beyoncé’s Country Music Is a Different Kind of Personal: “TEXAS HOLD ’EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” Review appeared first on Consequence.

Beyoncé has been part of our collective cultural consciousness in such a prominent way, and for so long now, that it can be tempting to take greatness for granted. (Not me — y’all stay safe, though!) Over the last decade, we’ve seen Beyoncé introduce the idea of visual albums to the general public with her self-titled project, embrace righteous rage and reclamation of self on Lemonade, tear down and reinvent expectations for festival headliners at Beychella, and send a love letter to the origins of house music in RENAISSANCE. Now, after announcing the second act of her RENAISSANCE project during the Super Bowl, the first two singles are here — and when I say yee, you better say haw.

On first glance, it might feel like a sharp pivot to go from disco and club elements to country, but by keeping both projects under the RENAISSANCE umbrella — with country being the second act of three — Beyoncé is providing a gentle reminder that both genres are deeply rooted in the creativity of Black artists in America. Country music is inextricably tied to the blues and spirituals of the South; despite the direction of so much of mainstream, modern country music, the sonic foundation will always be there.

Country music is defined by personal stories, with an emphasis on relatability, two things that haven’t always been hallmarks of Beyoncé’s catalogue. Conversely, Texas, in all its glory, has always been part of Beyoncé’s musical identity — but never has she embraced this part of her southern roots in such a major way. Lemonade cut “Daddy Lessons,” which she revamped with The Chicks, dipped a toe into this space, but she’s now diving in.

“TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” offer two distinct pathways out of Club Renaissance and into the countryside, one fun and danceable, the other introspective and sweeping. “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” leans into an undeniable truth, which is that sometimes the people simply yearn for boom-clap music. It’s only February, but it might just be the song of the summer for me here in Nashville once the seasons officially change; the bouncy joy baked into the track demands to be played in the type of dive bar she lovingly sings about. Music Row doesn’t always collectively make the right choices, but this song deserves a happy home on country radio. It’s Beyoncé’s inimitable vocals that take it from good to great.

“16 CARRIAGES,” meanwhile, is a heavier mid-tempo cut that offers a somewhat rare look into the interiority of one of our more private celebrities. Here, she toys with the balance of sadness and hope — deeply characteristic of the country genre — as she reflects on the path she’s walked since signing to Columbia Records at the age of 15. “Had to leave my home at an early age/ I saw Mama prayin’, I saw Daddy grind,” she sings. “Sixteen dollars, workin’ all day/ Ain’t got time to waste, I got art to make/ I got love to create on this holy night.”

By emphasizing the organ and choir-like harmonies, she’s pulling in Gospel elements more characteristic of Black country artists. “16 CARRIAGES” invokes some of the autobiographical grit of Johnny Cash and his contemporaries, but the bigger vocal moments and dramatic air recall the more soulful style of Barbara Mandrell. The scale here feels more expected of a Beyoncé single, but the contrast between the two is exciting — what will Act II sound like as a whole, if we already have so much range to enjoy here?

Beyoncé, of course, has nothing to prove to anyone, but she seems to be thinking of the mosaic of artistry she’s woven over her whole career with this next step. Again, in “16 CARRIAGES,” she says: “Had to sacrifice and leave my fears behind/ The legacy, if it’s the last thing I do/ You’ll remember me.” I believe you, Beyoncé.

Beyoncé’s Country Music Is a Different Kind of Personal: “TEXAS HOLD ’EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” Review
Mary Siroky

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