Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ Is Here, and It’s Much More Than Country

Beyoncé has gone country, sure … but it turns out that’s only the half of it.

For months, the superstar, who made her name in R&B and pop, has been telegraphing her version of country music and style. There was the “disco” cowboy hat at her Renaissance World Tour last year, and her “western” look at the Grammys in February, complete with a white Stetson and black studded jacket. Then, on the night of the Super Bowl, she released two new songs, and sent one of them, “Texas Hold ’Em” — with plucked banjos and lines about Texas and hoedowns — to country radio stations, sparking an industrywide debate about the defensive moat that has long surrounded Nashville’s musical institutions.

At midnight on Friday, Beyoncé finally released her new album, “Cowboy Carter,” and the country bona fides were certainly there. Dolly Parton provides a cameo introduction to Beyoncé’s version of “Jolene,” Parton’s 1972 classic about a woman confronting a romantic rival. Willie Nelson pops in twice as a grizzled D.J., who says he “turns you on to some real good [expletive],” including snippets of Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the blues singer Son House.

Yet “Cowboy Carter” is far broader than simply a country album. Beyoncé does a version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and, on the track “Ya Ya,” draws from Nancy Sinatra, Sly Stone and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” “Desert Eagle” is glistening funk, and the upbeat “Bodyguard” would not be out of place on a modern rock radio station. The album’s range suggests a broad essay on contemporary pop music, and on the nature of genre itself.

That theory is made clear on the spoken track “Spaghettii,” featuring the pioneering but long absent Black country singer Linda Martell, who in 1970 released an album called “Color Me Country.”

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? Yes, they are,” Martell, 82, says. “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

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