'Cowboy Carter' takes us back to reclaim Beyoncé's roots (REVIEW)

Beyoncé in ‘Cowboy Carter’ artwork
Beyoncé in ‘Cowboy Carter’ artwork


Growing up in the very mild, mild Midwest as often the only Black girl in various spaces, I just couldn't jive with country music. To be clear, I mean white folk country music. (And yes, there is a difference.) The country music I heard in the home infused with gospel and soul? Sure. The country music I heard while visiting my relatives in Oklahoma and Texas? I’d make fun of it with all the other kids, but it also became a part of me. So heading back to the Midwest to a country music bar to get greeted by a gigantic confederate flag with nary a blinked eye was not a culture I wanted to be a part of. And since most of my life was spent in that environment, I avoided it like the plague.

Enter Beyoncé.

The absolute chokehold that Act I: Renaissance still has me in should probably be studied. Knowing there would be three acts during this era of her career and knowing that country would be one of those and knowing just how angry it would make white people… I decided it was time to make my peace with the genre. Well, at least with Beyoncé’s version of country music. (Remember, as Mrs. Knowles-Carter said herself, “it’s not a country album, it’s a Beyoncé album!”)

So with the hope of a rock-infused Act III on the horizon, let’s go track by track through Act II and see if we can unearth some hidden gems in Cowboy Carter!

“American Requiiem”


Beyoncé - AMERIICAN REQUIEM (Official Lyric Video)

In both Renaissance and Cowboy Carter, each opener has been a bombastic introduction/warning that attempts to prepare us for what’s to come. It ensures us to expect the unexpected and it’s a delicious sort of irony that perfectly exhibits Beyoncé’s otherworldliness. “You’re not going to get it, get it?” And we nod along, accepting that we’ll pick up what we can and get the rest on our many, many re-listens.

There’s a Grand Ole Opry-esque set of vocals that wail “the big ideas are buried here” and it’s a punch in the gut that drives home a few important things about this work. First, it was written before Act I in which Beyoncé laments her “un-American life,” and later in this track, and specifically in “Ya Ya,” she talks about how her family lived and died in America and how there’s a lot of “red in that white and blue.” To date, many know about how her family name of Beyincé was literally erased. How do you make peace with a country that doesn’t know they’re the problem? It’s enough to make you cry, but there’s no time for that, we have to go to the next part!

As if inhabited by the spirit of Tina Turner, Beyoncé asks her audience if we can hear her and if can we see her? It’s a defiant and unnecessary plea. Of course she can be seen, she drew in the most viewers the show had ever seen, so what was all that chatter? “Looka here” she asks, followed with, “can you stand me?”

And it’s an excellent question.

Her voice is magical. She has amazing control and when she pushes herself it’s breathtaking. The vocal fry, the growls, the screeches that reach the edge of overboard give just a taste of what could be for Act III. As we returned to the opus, I couldn’t help but tear up again. I remember Destiny’s Child being called a flash in the pan and people saying they would be too “ghetto” and too “country” and they would be short lived. Now Beyoncé is not only country, but elevating Black country artists along the way.



BLACKBIIRD (Official Lyric Video)

It makes sense that Beyoncé would choose this classic Beatles track. Originally penned by Paul McCartney the song was meant to bring light to the Black liberation fight during the Civil Rights Movement, specifically the plight of the Black woman. I believe the artists are collaborating primarily in the gorgeous intricate background vocals with the exception of a featured vocalist at the end who appears to be Tanner Adell. Other features are Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts.

“16 Carriages”


Beyoncé - 16 CARRIAGES (Official Visualizer)

Before listening to either of the two previous releases, I predicted that I would like this one most but “Texas Hold ‘Em” would be the break-out hit, and I was right. “16 Carriages” relays a truly interesting way of putting your past behind you. Packing it into funeral carriages and setting them free into the dark night. I find it interesting that she begins with her dreams and then decides to embrace her dreams and instead offloads her fears. The line “I will cook, clean, but still won’t fold,” remains epic. And each step she takes away from her fears as she reminisces is accented by a twangy steel guitar, a booming bass drum, that chunky electric, those fiddly strings, and that grimy vintage sound that just pierces right through to your core and shakes you apart in an unmatched experience. It’s big and it’s bold and only God knows.



Beyoncé, Rumi Carter - PROTECTOR (Official Lyric Video)

This is a beautiful song that features Beyoncé’s daughter, Rumi Carter, asking her mom to sing a “wullaby.” Beyoncé obliges and sings, co-written with former YouTube star and out musician Ryan Beatty. Beatty contributed to a few tracks on Cowboy Carter and has a knack for beautifully crafted lines that flow musically. The collaboration is really special. “I first saw your face in your father’s gaze. There’s a long line of hands carrying your name. Liftin’ you up so you will be raised.” A novel in three lines. The lines about being a “projector” are also extremely poignant. A gem!

“My Rose”


Beyoncé - MY ROSE (Official Lyric Video)

It is an absolute crime that an interlude that’s only 50 seconds was able to turn me into a puddle of tears. (How dare you, Beyoncé?!) Honestly the first half of this album is dehydrating and there should be a warning to have a full water bottle and box of tissues nearby. “My Rose” reminds me of an interlude during Ginuwine’s 100% album near the end of “None of Your Friend’s Business.” I remember screaming at Ginuwine and Aaliyah (gone too soon!) to SHUT UP so I could hear the song under their arguing! Ahem. This interlude was beautiful and said so much in a short amount of time. The lyrics, “So many roses but none to be picked without thorns so be fond of your flaws, dear” are enough to tear me into pieces but the simple abandoned “I hope” at the end is as inspirational as it is haunting. And I have so many women, theys, and gays I need to send it to on a daily basis. I was a little worried about the number of people who thought it was from Beyoncé to her kids, though. Clearly this was a song for the deeply unwell and then I realized maybe I’m the drama? Yikes.

“Smoke Hour * Willie Nelson”


Beyoncé, Willie Nelson - SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON (Official Lyric Video)

“You know my name, I don’t need to know yours!”

The glee in which we are collectively roasted by thee Willie Nelson provides me with a joy I cannot fully describe! Especially after hearing him audibly light-up and also saying “KNTRY Radio” which isn’t fully the same but it also isn’t not the same? I believe Willie is past his singing time (he’s done enough, people!), but I’m so happy he was able to contribute to this and “Smoke Hour II.” What a Legend!

“Texas Hold ‘Em”


Beyoncé - TEXAS HOLD 'EM (Official Visualizer)

What more is there to say about “Texas Hold ‘Em?” You know it’s that girl when Kevin Bacon not only does his cover but grabs Kyra to join in! Beyoncé is no stranger to starting a trend and this song broke records inspiring line dances and thousands of videos. Typically this is the kind of song that fits into my “triggered” column (primarily because of people like the commenters on that Keven Bacon post), but overall I didn’t mind it. I will say the slowdown at the end was undeniable with the “photogenic, spurs, boots, shoot!” and the transition into “Bodyguard” is smooth and fantastic and fun! It’s also remarkable to note that this song is kind of nonsense and isn’t about anything but dancing and having a good time. I saw a video trying to analyze it and getting really frustrated, meanwhile the next video was some kids do-si-do-ing to it, and you can guess who was having the better time. Sometimes you don’t have to overthink it.



Beyoncé - BODYGUARD (Official Lyric Video)

We get Shawntoni Nichols who we heard on “My Rose” and Ryan Beatty again in this fun and flowy hit that grabs you and never lets go. Readers, sometimes Beyoncé is in love too much. I know, you’d think it impossible, but the trick to this anomaly is there are times when she’s in love too much in a good way (this song) and times when she’s in love too much in a bad way (a few more that we’ll get to). I love when she just decides to become superhuman to protect her love from the world. She starts small, promising to tell secrets in the “backbeat.” She’s ready to take off the day just to turn you on! Then it escalates! She’ll protect you in the mosh pit. She’ll be the lifeguard, she’ll act as Kevlar, she doesn’t like the way that woman is looking at you? She’s gonna “John Wayne that #ss”! What does that mean? She’ll figure it out as needed! And she’ll do it over this early 2000’s mid-pop rock beat. Something that might be in the soundtrack of a Sheryl Crow, Whitney Houston road trip movie (I’d watch that!). It’s fantastic!

“Dolly P”


Beyoncé, Dolly Parton - DOLLY P (Official Lyric Video)

Thee Dolly Parton pronouncing it “huzzy” and not giving a day-um is sometimes all I need to make it through the day. What a delightful and to the point cameo. And a delightful co-sign of Beyoncé’s adaptation of Parton’s timeless classic about the woman who would be her replacement.



Beyoncé - JOLENE (Official Lyric Video)

Obviously, this version was much more… let’s say, direct (though, I would live to hear Dolly Parton say “you don’t want no smoke from me!”). But the change that sets this track apart was the addition of that choir. My goodness does it change the game! I wish we had more information about the voices, but I can shout out Nova Wav, who also contributed to Act I, along with Khirye Tyler and Jack Ro. The imagery of Beyoncé’s “Creole banjee b*tch” with her man by her side and the rest of the neighborhood behind her all there to roast Jolene made my heart flutter! Why does the wife always have to do it all alone? Stand up, hubby, lend a helping hand, neighbors! I mean, it doesn’t do much good, and it’s still just as desperate because ,as we all know, it’s never really about Jolene, is it? But still Jolene, you got to love yourself!

I’ll add on though, there was a lot of criticism by people who said they were missing that they felt like the song was boastful and the bravado worked and clearly didn’t tie it to the other song with Dolly called “Tyrant” later in the album. I’d be interested to know they’re thoughts after hearing the two together.



Beyoncé - DAUGHTER (Official Lyric Video)

During my first listen, I thought it was still “Jolene!” So of course I screamed, “Did Beyoncé kill Jolene!?” Then later she said something along the lines of, “how long before his breath runs out?” so I yelled again, “And her husband?!” and the opera started and I said quietly, “It’s a Spaghetti Western?” and I was very confused, but also got my entire life because Beyoncé got an Italian aria in my Spaghetti Western!

I messaged a friend that he needed to learn the “Jolene Aria” to which he rightly replied, “What?” which led to several minutes of miscommunication before I realized what happened but all of that was to say that this song is phenomenal! So many amazing lines in a story that’s dark, layered, and frankly a little terrifying. And in all of the reclaiming, I believe she managed to reclaim Caro Mio Ben! The Beyondacity! Apologies to your neighbors in advance because your showers just became the Opera House. But if you want a dose of instant joy, go to TikTok and search for Italians reacting to “Daughter” for the first time and you will be unable to keep from smiling.



Beyoncé, Linda Martell & Shaboozey - SPAGHETTII (Official Lyric Video)

Country music trailblazer Linda Martell opens this track saying, “Genres are funny things, aren’t they? Yes they are!” She would know. She originally began in R&B and pop before she happened to sing a country song on an airforce base and was discovered and then introduced to producer Shelby Singleton. From there a career began that led to Rolling Stone naming Martell as “The First Female Negro Country Artist.” The irony of this is many folded and one of the infinite reasons this track packs the punch that it does.

In “American Requiem” we hear the line, “They used to say I spoke, Too country and the rejection came, said I wasn’t, Country ‘nough”. When “Texas Hold ‘Em” came out, I read comments that said, “she’s not Country, she doesn’t have an accent!” and while I would defy anyone to point at Houston born and bred Beyoncé and say she doesn’t sound Houston born and bred, it’s this very cognitive dissonance that she’s speaking about. It’s beyond moving the goalposts. It’s not just making up new rules for a game we were never allowed to win, but for a game they were never going to play in the first place.

“Spaghettii” is country music, it’s just a question of whose country. On a country album this may seem incongruous, but on a Beyoncé album inspired by country and her roots, it fits seamlessly. This song is F-U-N, FUN! It’s an energy boost, it rhymes “Thanos” with “Cornrows” and asks “what of it?” I feel like the first part is her letting the battered fish hit the hot grease and cook and the end is spaghetti cooking, smooth and bubbly. Either way, you come out with a fantastic meal.

“Alligator Tears”


Beyoncé - ALLIIGATOR TEARS (Official Lyric Video)

If “Bodyguard” is a tale of too much love gone good, “Alligator Tears” is a tale of too much love gone wrong. This song. sung mostly in minor chords. tells the story of a woman being swayed by the manipulations of her lover to give everything of herself for him. She gives her strength, physical and emotional. She gives her power of choice, her power of worship and dignity, and falls prey to his alligator tears. It’s a tricky little number that almost sounds nice until you realize it’s not nice at all. “How does it feel to be adored?” appears to be a sincere question and that might be the most concerning part of this lovely and aching lament.

“Smoke Hour II”


Beyoncé, Willie Nelson - SMOKE HOUR II (Official Lyric Video)

Who doesn’t need a li’l more Willie in their lives? I love him reinforcing the idea that sometimes you don’t know what you want. Sometimes you need to shut up and let someone show you.

“Just For Fun”


Beyoncé, Willie Jones - JUST FOR FUN (Official Lyric Video)

Dave Hamelin from “16 Candles” returns for this track along with Beatty and Jeffy Gitty. With a feature by Willie Jones, this bittersweet ballad paints a muddy picture of the good times that get you through the bad times. It has a “Chandelier” quality where you wonder if the Life of the Party really just wants to take a nap or needs a hug? It’s a dazzling study of questioning the expectations we put on the hype men of our lives and the way they deal with their own ups and downs and the vices they drown in to get through the nights. The lines “Cause time heals everything, I don’t need anything, Hallelujah. I pray to Her” are haunting and beautiful.

“II Most Wanted”


Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus - II MOST WANTED (Official Lyric Video)

I didn’t have a clue what to expect and my hair was blown back further than Miley’s at the 2024 Grammys! I love this song! I cried without shame. Of course it’s a Ryan Tedder song and I was thrilled to see Miley producing. I know Miley has been dealing with Reinke’s edema for a while but I also know that Beyoncé knows how to be accommodating without being patronizing or losing any of the uniqueness of Miley’s voice. This song showcased the best of both ladies and they complimented each other beautifully. For me it was a Thelma and Louise anthem for the ages. For others, it was their (gross) boyfriend. Whether it’s around a bonfire, cuddled on a couch, or in the bed of a pickup truck, you’ll just want to scream this song into the ear of someone you love.

“Levii’s Jeans”


Beyoncé & Post Malone - LEVII'S JEANS (Official Lyric Video)

If I had to use a word to describe Post Malone, I don’t think I ever would have come up with “adorable” and yet, here we are! This bubble gum pop song is so sweet and yet undercover sexy. It’s definitely something I could have gotten away with singing under my breath in church with a few word changes because the tune and Beyoncé’s tune is so gosh darn cute! Legend Nile Rodgers worked on this along with my personal fave Beyoncé collaborator, artist and superproducer The-Dream. Post Malone really delivers and matches Beyoncé’s tone and I definitely screamed when he declared “You’re my Renaissance!” An overall solid track that will have strong mainstream success.



Beyoncé - FLAMENCO (Official Lyric Video)

This is an interesting and short track. The “flamenco” of it seems to come in the claps that accentuate the track. It’s beautiful and winding and seems to tell a tale of wanting to wander but having been scared to for fear of being alone. It needs a lot more introspection and maybe it’s not as deep as I’m making it out to be, but there’s a lot going on in the instrumentation and the vocal layering that creates a complex listen.

“The Linda Martell Show”


Beyoncé, Linda Martell - THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW (Official Lyric Video)

Linda Martell comes back to introduce a song about a name that was erased and a woman that was seemingly lost and the journey between that loss and the triumphant return. You gotta love a comeback!

“Ya Ya”


Beyoncé - YA YA (Official Lyric Video)

Beyoncé tells the story of the Beyincé/Beyoncé family. Beyoncé was named as an homage to her mother Tina Beyoncé Knowles-Lawson’s family. However, Tina noticed that several family members — herself included — had their last names spelled “Beyoncé” while others had the “Beyincé” spelling. When asked why, they were told it was a clerical error and to be happy they had birth certificates at all since at the time it was rare for Black Americans to have them issued.

“Ya Ya” starts with a fantastic homage to Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots” and we get Tina, we get James Brown, we get a little Billy Preston, some Lil Richard, and (because why not?!) some Beach Boys. It’s all in there over this message about a little too much red in the white and blue and all her life her family has had to fight and having done all the standing? They danced.

“Ya Ya” is a song of defiance, even in the face of not knowing what to do. Beyoncé says her family lived and died in America. They turned off the news, worked time and a half for half the pay, no one was there to help so who cares let’s dance! It’s a fatalist “Get Me Bodied” and it’s extremely timely. It’s a dance track to the Titanic and thank you! If I’m going down, let it be twerking.

“Oh Louisiana”


Beyoncé - OH LOUISIANA (Official Lyric Video)

This vocal modulation is the lazy river after the rapids that were “Ya Ya.” It moves so sweetly. The Chuck Berry classic is a wonderful bit of rock blues and I’d love to learn more about its significance to Beyoncé.

“Desert Eagle”


Beyoncé - DESERT EAGLE (Official Lyric Video)

“Soft kisses on some fat lips.” Ma’am! This was the “Partition” of the album for me, and it was just over a minute long. The transitions are a bit less obvious than in Renaissance, but when they hit, they HIT, and going in the next track, the transition is flawless.



Beyoncé - RIIVERDANCE (Official Lyric Video)

I was ready to write an entire dissertation about the quiet defiance of “Riiverdance.” Beyoncé has unparalleled control over her voice so it’s always fun when she plays around with different cadences and tones. But in “Riiverdance” she employs almost a land shanty style that starts with a simple fiddle or banjo and then slowly escalates both in instrumentation and vocally. Each verse adds more instrumentation, more beats, more strings, and more En Vogue-style harmonies and “heys!” It builds and gets bigger, but some parts get smaller while others swell. There’s always something new to pay attention to and then it nearly all goes away. She always keeps you simmering and then she strips away the excess and leaves you with this very raw falsetto.

There’s a line that states, “Your fade was fresh, your eyes were such a shade of brown,” and in the Irish equivalent, the line would read something about their flaxen hair and eyes of glass. I love seeing beauty descriptions of people of color, or at the very least, people who aren’t “straw-haired, pale-skinned, clear eyed beauties.”

I mentioned the defiant feel to the song and I love the lyrical sentiment of getting shot, coming back to life but never to your senses. Also, the idea of being arrested and simply stating, “Yeah, I did it. And I’ll do it again!” is iconic. Raye is truly one to watch and this is going to be a sleeper hit.

“II Hands II Heaven”


Beyoncé - II HANDS II HEAVEN (Official Lyric Video)

The construction and themes of this song make it a masterpiece. It feels nostalgic instantly. Like you know the song already even though it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. And it’s not derivative, but there’s something inherently comforting and nostalgic about it. Which is good about a song that time-travels to the past. There’s also something very personal to Beyoncé in this song. She has co-writers, the Beatty influence is evident in the Arizona and Marfa mentions, but there’s something that’s very specifically her and that’s the lines about judgment. She talks about it a lot and it made me think of “Church Girl.”

I remember an interview Beyoncé did years ago in which she proclaimed, “Hell, I don’t even curse!” and I remember laughing because I was also a church girl and I knew how the church ladies were gonna light her up for that one. I remember the slut shaming anthem/banger “Nasty Girl.” Sure, it doesn’t hold up, but it still slaps and it’s still a significant part of her discography.

I think part of any true church girl’s metamorphosis into spiritual woman is the removal of shame and judgment and it’s due mostly to… who cares? Why spend time judging people when we can spend time being in love? There’s a lovely section where she talks about the contradictory:

“Two hands to Heaven I’ve prayed, priest forgive my soul, lovely daggers pierced my heart many moons ago, toxic roses chased by wolves and carnivores, lost virgins with broken wings that will regrow.”

All of these things are kind of oxymoronic. A priest can’t save your soul, only God can. If your heart is pierced, you die. Toxic roses, to me, harkens back to “My Rose” and if wolves are on the chase, it’s already too late. Broken wings don’t regrow and yet, she still flies.

And before we get the chance to question or dig deeper, we go back in time. The clock rewinds and we swerve back to a simpler time and suddenly it’s this ‘90s basement part and the end of a Jodeci song is playing and it’s just adlibs over the chorus — the ones where you know every run by heart because then that’s all it took to fall in love. This song is insane. Yes, it made me cry at the sheer audacity of being so good.



Beyoncé, Dolly Parton - TYRANT (Official Lyric Video)

First off, Dolly P brings another cameo and I believe that’s her with a little support from Beyoncé singing the “Hangman” section in front and near the end! I admit at first I was a bit confused and thought, “Wait a minute! Was Beyoncé, Jolene all along?” I have no one to blame, this album was very overwhelming the first go ‘round.

Still, after a few more listens, I think it’s a continuation of “Jolene.” Jolene is the Hangman, she essentially kills the man that he is to Dollyoncé. She says, “I hated you once, I envy you now” and later she asks the Hangman to teach her “how not to cry” how to make it so it doesn’t hurt so badly. Which is devastating. It’s the stuff in the middle I don’t fully have a grasp on. Is the tyrant also the Hangman? Do we switch perspectives? Or is she trying to get over him by getting under someone else and getting in trouble? I don’t know, I could be wrong about the whole thing, but I know I am moving these hips trying to figure it out, honeyyyy! It’s extremely catchy and I defy anyone to make it through without moving their hips, since it’s as impossible as deciphering the storyline.

“Sweet * Honey * Buckin’”


Beyoncé - SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN' (Official Lyric Video)

Make every section of this track at least three minutes longer and put it in my veins! I am not as strong on Black rodeo, so there’s some transition Easter eggs I might be missing, but man did I love this Neapolitan musical delight! You can hear the Pharrell all over it, and it’s so welcome! They draw me in instantly, but they have me at, “Jiffy cornbread, booty cornfed, body rolls at the rodeo.” It’s so fun! Shaboozey is back and each part hits in its own special way. I can imagine the TikTok’s already!



Beyoncé - AMEN (Official Lyric Video)

The finale is a great closer asking for mercy after putting us through this ringer of an album. Knowing we’ll have to take many, many trips through again. This time the “big ideas” are “old ideas” and they’re no longer wailed, but no less emphasized and still very much buried. We’re let out with a symphonic whoosh letting us know that more is on the horizon. See you all for Act III!

Parting shots:


— In “Jolene” she says “I raised that man and I raised his kids.” Clearly “raised” has two meanings: raised as in status and raised as in reared. But the amount of confusion said a lot about the current lack of faith in heterosexual men and that made me laugh a whole bunch.

— A fun sonic adventure is queueing up Renaissance directly after the sonic whoosh at the end of “Amen.” It fits so nicely and makes me extremely excited for Act III.

— I know y’all noticed some of the extra “ii”s in the song titles. What do you think they mean?!

— The song excerpts played during the Willie Nelson smoke hours feature Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Roy Hamilton and many more pioneers of blues, gospel, soul and the sounds that make up what country music is. Each clip was chosen with intention.

What were your favorite songs? What was your favorite Easter egg? Did I get something wrong or was there a take that you saw differently? Share it with us!

Cowboy Carter is available wherever you stream music.