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Weekend Intermission – Beyoncé (USA) AMERIICAN REQUIEM (sample track from album Cowboy Carter)

Weekend Intermission is our regular feature where we look at an artist or band not from the Nordic countries, just to mix things up a bit.

Never in a month of Sundays did I ever think I’d write a review of Beyoncé, who has just released her eighth studio album, ‘Cowboy Carter’, one which reportedly sees her hopping on the country and western trail and going south, stopping off at Nashville for a hoe down or two.

In reality, while she does drift well into Americana territory, with more than a little gospel thrown in for good measure, either solo or with a list of collaborators as long as your arm, and presumably recorded over a lengthy period of time on an album that is 27 tracks long, she never strays that far away from her long established R ‘n’ B/hip hop roots either, and especially as the album progresses.

Her previous album, ‘Renaissance’ (also referred to as ‘Act I: Renaissance’) in 2022 sought to inspire joy and escapism in listeners who had experienced pandemic isolation and also to celebrate a ‘club era’ in which marginalised people sought liberation through dance music.

On releasing it she promised it would be part of a trilogy and this album, ‘Cowboy Carter’ is the second part of it or ‘Act II’. (You’ll understand the significance of that in a moment), and that it would be a “country album.”

She has a history where that genre is concerned having previously felt that she wasn’t welcome in it (unlike Taylor Swift of course, who went the other way, out of the C&W scene).

Back in 2016 Beyoncé performed her country song ‘Daddy’s Lessons’ with country group The Dixie Chicks, (now known simply as The Chicks), at the Country Music Association Awards (CMAAs), the genre’s annual big bash. But there was a backlash against Beyoncé performing amongst the conservative C&W fraternity and the CMAAs pulled it from their online presence.

That may or may not have been the catalyst for this album, which has eventually arrived.

Looking through the track list the first thing you will notice is that many titles have a double “i” or “II,” which seems to confirm that it is indeed Part II of the ‘Renaissance’ project. They are: ‘Ameriican Requiem,’ ‘Blackbiird,’ ‘Smoke Hour II,’ ‘II Most Wanted’, ‘II Hands II Heaven’ ‘Riiverdance’, ‘Levii’s Jeans’, ‘Spaghettii’, ‘Alliigator Tears’, and ‘Sweet Honey Buckiin’.

There are some very short tracks which don’t seem to have any significance in the greater scheme of things but then with an artist like Beyoncé you never know.

Not being a particular aficionado of R ‘n’ B, I listened to the first track ‘Ameriican Requiem,’ out of curiosity as much as anything else, to see if she could get to grips with Americana generally and how she fared.

What a great song. Don’t go there expecting Dolly Parton (although she does appear on the album, preceding a cover of ‘Jolene’, believe it or not). ‘Ameriican Requiem’ is possibly the furthest away from C&W of any song on the album.

It opens like a sung funeral oration at a church in the Deep South of the good ol’ US of A and thereafter Gospel permeates it as it ebbs and flows and cascades like any river or waterfall you might care to mention.

The ‘ows’, ‘aahs’ and ‘huhs’ remind me of Sister Rosetta Tharpe blasting out her blues and Gospel songs on a platform of the disused Chorlton Railway Station in Manchester in 1964 (do check out that video, few of today’s performers would have been here without her and I’m betting you’ve never heard of her).

The title does suggest a political underbelly and it might well be interpreted that way as it is delivered seismically part way between a political rant and one by an eye bulging preacher of the Billy Graham or Al Sharpton class.

Moreover the requiem is about to be written for America, is it not? Whether it is Joe or Donald (or Kennedy Junior I suppose, we shouldn’t forget him), come November the next four years are going to be interesting to say the least. By the time of the election after that the South might even be back to pre-1861 days.

And then the insertion of the extra ‘I’ in American could under other circumstances be interpreted as reading ‘I can’, which together with the line ‘Can we stand for something?’ suggests a Martin Luther King moment of sorts.

But does Beyoncé do politics to that degree? Probably not.

No, the story is about her and how she feels she has conquered something that she previously thought, for all the acclaim she receives for her songwriting and all the success in the world, was denied to her, namely acceptance as a country performer, and in a white-dominated business. Sister Tharpe would have been proud of her.

She clearly references the Dixie Chicks incident, after which she was racially abused online, in the bridge:

Thinkin’ to myself (Thinkin’ to myself)/Oh, it’s a lot of talkin’ goin’ on (Oh)

While I sing my song (Yeah)/Do you hear me when I say?/Do you hear me when I say? Ah.”

Of course the social media wires will be on fire with speculation about some of the lines in the song as it concludes.

Where was “A pretty house that we never settled in” and why is it so important? “A funeral for fair-weather friends” was held – or will be – for whom? And why does she “cleanse me of my Father’s sins” and what were they? What connection, if any, does that have with ‘Daddy’s Lessons’?

Perhaps we’ll find out in Part III.

Musically the song is an absolute delight with just the perfect mix of acoustic and electronically generated sounds, courtesy of the very best session musicians to be found anywhere and a melody that develops over time like the unraveling of taste buds to a chocolate Easter Egg.

As often she employs multiple vocal stylisations throughout from gentle balladry to atomic explosion at the drop of a hat and I’m guessing she’s multi-tracked her own backing vocals, her unique timbre always in evidence whether it’s just her or 20 Beyoncés.

This song alone represents everything that comes to mind when I think of Beyoncé – utter professionalism, stirring tunes, vocal manipulation of the highest order and she sounds like she believes in every single world and line she sings. Whether you like her style or not doesn’t really matter. Just revel in it.

Some critics have interpreted this album as proving she can “do anything.” I’m not sure about that. I haven’t heard any opera yet, nor metal growls and grunts, and only a little bit of rap, but she does have that unique timbre for sure, and a technique that is adaptable to all of the styles she has tried so far.

You aren’t at the top of your game for nothing.

‘Renaissance’ was her post-pandemic voyage of rediscovery, and having now donned her cowboy boots here and shimmied out of town presumably the thiiird album in the triiilogy wiiil have every word contaiiiniiing an ‘I’ repliiicated thriiice.

And who would like to bet what direction she’ll go off in then?

I have listened to most of the rest of the album but I won’t pass comment on it, I hope what I said here will challenge you to seek it out irrespective of what you think about Beyoncé.

I’ll just leave you with this line from the track ‘II Hands II Heaven’ which comes out of nowhere

“we partied on Venus and woke up on Mars”.

Whoever wrote that deserves a medal.

Find her on:





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