When Beyonce released “Daddy Lessons” as a song from the album “Lemonade” in 2016, the country flavor he incorporated into the tune seemed too fitting to limit it to something unique. But what were the odds that he would ever return to that kind of genre influence on a full album? Probably less than they would have been if anyone had ever tried to calculate the odds of the Rolling Stones following a singular country song like “Faraway Eyes” with an entire project leaning in that direction… which, obviously, they never did. The chances would have seemed infinitely smaller on the heels of a brilliant club-and-dance collection rooted so strongly in black sounds and queer history as “Renaissance.”
So even if he had shown a fleeting interest in exploring a different side of his native Texas. Has any superstar ever made a more surprising hand than the cards Beyoncé just laid on the table with “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages”?
Maybe, but not in recent memory, and beyond the sheer surprise of this,”Renaissance Act II” shows every sign of being as exciting and provocative as Act I, if this two-fer teaser is any real indication of what might be in store for “Renaissance”’s totally unsounding sequel.
In reality, these two tracks are so different from each other that it’s hard to guess exactly what the rest of the March 29 album has in store for us. For fans who welcome this detour, it will be a long month and a half, wondering if the entire project will veer toward the more explicit country tropes of “Texas Hold ‘Em” or toward the more delicate, luscious, and harsh ones. -define the American culture of “16 Carriages”, or reveal different flavors not yet hinted at. The only thing that seems certain about this initial release is that the approach will include acoustic overtones of Lone Star, and that it will no doubt look amazing with a hat and any other form of cowboy costume throughout the campaign.
Actually, there is one more thing that seems to be a common thread throughout this project, and that is the idea of “country” music as black music. As if that were not already likely given his inclinations to date, it is made abundantly clear by the inclusion of Rhiannon Giddens as a guest instrumentalist on “Texas Hold ‘Em” playing banjo and viola. Giddens has been the nation’s leading educator in raising public awareness that the banjo was a black instrument before it became white, and Beyoncé would hardly ignore that righteous crusade by choosing it for this project, whether it turns out to be either in a single song or a broader part of the album. In “16 Carriages,” she chose another legendary black roots musician, Robert Randolph, as one of two credited steel players.
Beyond these two, there doesn’t seem to be much in common between the other producers and co-writers he’s assembled for “Act II,” from what we see in these credits. There’s one of the greats of modern soul, Raphael Saadiq, of course, and plenty of Canadians!, in the form of Bülow and former Stills frontman Dave Hamelin (who worked on the last album’s “Alien Superstar”). The scattering of talent across known rosters simply tells us that she didn’t stop by Music Row and see if Dave Cobb was available, or anyone else who might be considered a usual suspect when maneuvering a crossover move. A spot on CMT Countdown doesn’t seem to be her goal (although, given CMT’s eagerness to welcome people outside the genre, she’ll probably get one anyway).
Both songs can be considered to start from what was promised with “Daddy Lessons” and follow it: musically, in the case of the more fun “Texas Hold ‘Em”, and lyrically, in the open narrative of growth of the reflective “16 Carriages”. .
“Texas” has a kind of four-on-the-ground country stomp; Once the banjo opening gives way to a serious groove, it’s easy to imagine a line dance taking place: “It’s a real life boogie and a real life dance / Don’t be a bitch, come take it to the track now.” .” By the end of the song, Bey readily acknowledges that there is a fashion aspect to this (as can be seen in the more than a dozen shots that already populate her website): “Spurs, spurs, boots / Photogenic, photogenic, shoot ” he sings in the fence. But the agility of her self-harmonizing over Giddens’ viola in that last stretch makes it clear that she’s too serious to settle for lazy genre tourism, even if the visuals turned out great.
“16 Carriages” is even more tantalizing as an indicator of where Beyoncé might be headed. At first, it sounds a hell of a lot more like a Joni Mitchell number than a Shania tune, to say the least, and even when the twin steels kick in, they’re understated and sweet, not thrown in so easily. C&W signifiers. She explores daddy issues again: “At 15, innocence went astray / I had to leave home at a young age / I saw momma praying, I saw daddy grinding” (lines that become “I saw momma crying, I saw dad lying” the second time). Any sense of familial exposure is only an afterthought, however, in a song that’s primarily about becoming a workhorse that was ridden too much before she had the chance to be a teenager. It’s one of the oldest stories in the world, or at least oldest in show business, and one that makes a good country song.
“Act II” will inevitably be seen, and rightly so, as part of a small but powerful tradition: The R&B singer is taking a step toward claiming country as his own, as happened most famously with Ray Charles’ landmark “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” in 1962. But there, Charles was brought to Nashville in the process of searching for a different classical songbook to cover. What Beyoncé may be looking to do here, with a set of original songs that span and transcend genre, still feels like uncharted territory, at least in the mainstream and outside the specialized realms of American culture, where everything is possible but not always very visible. .
It could even be considered radical (and might be upsetting to some people, if the mixed reaction to her collaboration with the Dixie Chicks on the CMA Awards telecast in 2016 is any indication). But with any luck, no one will be foolish enough to call it a fraud. As a Houston native, Beyoncé has as much of a natural right to do something country (or country-adjacent) as the exurban cowboys who mix bro-country with trap sounds these days. With Lana Del Rey having her own country album on the horizon, this could be a landmark year for mail-modern sounds in country and western music. As well as the genre has done commercially lately without outside help, it could stand a serious shakeup by an alien superstar.