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Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’: What to Watch, Read & Listen to After the Album

— Collage by Ashley Peña

Howdy and hello. It’s been less than a week, and Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé’s latest album, has already stampeded airwaves and streaming services like a herd of wild horses. With its genre-blurring melodies, rich-as-honey harmonies, and lyrics spicier than ghost pepper hot sauce, Cowboy Carter is a triumph that reclaims and showcases frequently overlooked artistry.

With Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé flings open the doors on a musical genre that’s been historically closed off to some. But the artist brandishes her musicality like a revolver, shooting down outdated tropes, while quilting together wide-ranging references to produce an album that so deeply subverts the genre that it becomes something new. As she sings on the opening track, Ameriican Requiem, “For things to stay the same, they have to change again.” Cowboy Carter may be rooted in country, but the message is all gospel: Everyone is invited to Beyoncé’s rodeo.

Notably, this new album is also rife with Beyoncé-isms: blink-and-you’ll-miss-them hints, references, and rare source material of all kinds lurk beneath each track’s surface. Read below to learn more if you can’t get enough of the album—or are simply curious about all the Easter eggs pickled throughout it.

Books

“Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions” by Francesca T. Royster

Without its African and Creole influences, country music would surely sound quite different—or not exist at all. Royster scratches away the genre’s whitewashed patina and traces the lineage of country music to Black, Mexican, and Native people, among others. In rich conversations with contemporary artists like Darius Rucker and Lil Nas X, Royster examines the evolution of Black country music while recognizing—and in some cases introducing—the artists who preceded them.

“The Tacky South” Edited by Katharine Burnett and Monica Carol Miller

With heavens-skimming hair and bum-grazing Daisy Dukes, for some Southerners, being tacky is a way of life. But what does “tacky” iconography signal about country culture? From Dolly Parton to red velvet cake (and perhaps, hot sauce carried in one’s purse), this essay collection is anything but shallow. In the book, Burnett and Miller investigate the region’s claim on a shifting, yet persistent image that illuminates issues of class, race, and gender in the American South.

“Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be” by Marissa R. Moss

Country music airwaves can be considered something of a good ol’ boys club. As of 2022, 80 percent of artists played on country music radio were men. Female artists have long suffered discrimination at the hands of industry radio DJs and executives. In this analysis, Moss, a Nashville-based journalist, pens a searing review of biases that have plagued emerging and top female talent, hindered their success, or thwarted their careers altogether.

“South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” by Imani Perry

The winner of the 2022 National Book Award for Non-Fiction, Perry journeys through the American South to comprehend the state of the nation. In immaculate prose and journalistic clarity, Perry sews together true stories of success and despair like the tattered edges of a skirt, cleaning up misconceptions and revealing the seams of inequities.

“Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, and Little-Known Stories from History” by Tricia Martineau Wagner

Here, stories of the brave Black men who started new lives after torturous years of slavery are finally shared. After the Civil War, these pioneers moved West to present-day Texas and California, living comparatively free, though incredibly hard lives.

Music

Color Me Country by Linda Martell

— Courtesy of Plantation Records

In 1969, Linda Martell became the first Black woman to appear on The Grand Ole Opry with her breakout album Color Me Country. In the record, the South Carolina-native blended yodeling with galloping roadhouse bass lines. A loss for country music, Martell retired in the ’70s after years of unrelenting racism. On “Spaghettii,” Beyoncé honors the singer and cements Martell on the mantle of country music history, where she rightly belongs.

Father of the Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Sessions, Son House

One of the grandfathers of Delta Blues, Son House was an evasive character—but his haunting songs endure. The track “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” sampled in one of the interludes during Cowboy Carter, is a defiant anthem of perseverance despite two-faced friends and naysayers—a topic Beyoncé knows plenty about.

Precious Memories, Sister Rosetta Tharpe

The godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe electrified gospel music—literally. Born in 1915 in Arkansas, Tharpe mastered the guitar at an early age, and often played the instrument during church. Though Tharpe encountered resistance for pairing electric guitar with traditional spirituals, her mastery for blending genres—blues and gospel, in her case—persist. With her unflinching artistic conviction, Beyoncé embroiders a similar tapestry on Cowboy Carter.

Jolene, Dolly Parton

It seems apropos that the 50th anniversary of Jolene would usher in a fresh chapter for the song. On Cowboy Carter, the original track is updated to reflect a modern version that offers little begging and plenty of warning.

Tina Turns the Country On! by Tina Turner

If one were to map the careers of Tina Turner and Beyoncé, they might notice similar paths. Heralding from Tennessee, Tina Turner’s first album was a delicious country record that marries that voice with outlaw country melodies and gospel choruses. Released the same year that Linda Martell retired, 1974, Tina croons, belts, wails, and picks up where Martell left off: lifting country music’s potential to new heights.

Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson

Who doesn’t love Uncle Willie? Nelson appears on Country Carter as a radio host and voice of god of sorts, asserting, “Sometimes you don’t know what you like until someone you trust turns you onto some real good shit.” Nelson’s 1975 album, Red Headed Stranger, embodies that ethos with heartbreakers like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Hands on the Wheel.”

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack

With its percussion named by Beyoncé as a key influence of the new album, the 2000 Coen brothers film soundtrack features bluegrass mountain music and acoustic ballads. Satirizing the classic epic, The Odyssey, the movie follows three escaped convicts who travel across Mississippi during the Great Depression in pursuit of hidden treasure.

Film and TV

Country Music

Country music heritage receives the Ken Burns treatment in his wide-reaching docuseries on the genre. Perhaps the most expansive look at the history of country, Burns returns to its tangled roots and traces its evolution—and fracturing—into the ’90s.

Paris, Texas

— Courtesy of IMDb

Mirroring scenes from the film, the trailer for “Texas Hold ‘Em” opens with a man stumbling from a desert to join a crowd observing a vintage billboard advertising the track. The film follows a man as he journeys through Texas’s barren and dusty roads, late-night bars, and seedy sideshows in pursuit of redemption—could he be the same man Beyoncé guards so dearly in her version of “Jolene?”

Rides and Hides: Honoring Black Excellence

Got four minutes to spare? Of course you do. This short film honors Myrtis Dightman Sr., the first Black cowboy to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo. Today, his granddaughter Adia Dightman is working to welcome more Black women cowboys to the rodeo.

God Save Texas

Following the premise set out in the book by the same title, this Max trilogy investigates the complexity of Texas politics, its people, and its history. Here. three Texan directors—Richard Linklater, Alex Stapleton, and Iliana Sosa—unravel what it means to be Texan today.

American Symphony

Grab a tissue box. This recent documentary follows Cowboy Carter collaborator Jon Batiste while he rides professional highs and plummeting personal lows like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. As his career soars—securing Grammy nominations and a one-night affair at Carnegie Hall—his wife’s dormant cancer returns. This is a modern love story that exemplifies strength, resilience, and quiet acts of devotion in the face of life’s brutal realities.

The Hateful Eight

For the creation of Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé reimagined classic Western films in each song. One such movie, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is a raucous take on revenge and racism, rife with gunfights and two-timing.

Podcasts

Dolly Parton’s America

Hosted by NPR host and Nashville local, Jad Abumrad secures covetable access to the living legend for a nine-part series on the enduring appeal and uniting effect of Dolly Parton. Here he unpacks the star’s long-lasting career, her elusive politics, and peers at contemporary culture wars that are seemingly quieted under her command.

White Hats

This 2022 series produced by Texas Monthly tells the story of the original Texas Rangers, Los Diablos Tejanos, who symbolized safety and terror in equal measure. Each episode interrogates the mythology of the rangers, the protection they offered to some, and the wreckage they often inflicted on Mexicans and Mexican Americans.


Source: W Magazine

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