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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Beyonce’ meets the Beatles on new album, ‘Cowboy Carter’

Tony Violanti
Tony Violanti

Beyonce’ meets the Beatles on her new album, “Cowboy Carter.”
There is a distinct country vibe on the album  with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and other country performers. But Beyonce’ really hits her groove on the Beatles’ song, “Blackbird.”

She turns the 56-year-old number into a spiritual musical moment. Beyonce’ stays true to the original track and sings against a soft guitar, gentle strings, and slow drumbeat. A backing chorus of four female singers adds a gospel flavor.

Put it all together and you have a contemporary artist giving new and powerful life to an old standard. It’s always difficult to cover the Beatles, but Beyonce’ more than meets the challenge.  

“Blackbird” came out in 1968, on the so-called “White Album.” Paul McCartney has said he wrote and sang it as a tribute to the Little Rock Nine. They were a group of African-American students who desegregated Little Rock High School in 1957.
McCartney was inspired to write the song, when he was at his home in Scotland and a blackbird started chirping outside.
“He took up an acoustic guitar and allowed the idea to develop using the chord progressions of Bach’s Bourrée in E Minor, which he and George Harrison had learned to play in childhood,” The Guardian reported.
“I’d heard about the civil rights troubles that were happening in the 60s, in Alabama, Mississippi, Little Rock, in particular,” McCartney told GQ magazine in 2018, adding:
“I just thought it’d be really good if I could write something that if it ever reached any of the people going through those problems, it might give ’em a little bit of hope. So, I wrote Blackbird.

“In England, a bird (was slang for) a girl, so I was thinking of a Black girl going through this.  Now is your time to arise, set yourself free, and take these broken wings (and learn to fly)….all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.’”

This message and symbolism obviously touched Beyonce’. She used four African-American country singers for back-up on the track: Brittney Spencer, Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts.

“By introducing the song and its historic meaning to her vast, largely youthful audience, Beyoncé has given this timeless, but always timely, gem a new moment to arise,” critic Dave Simpson wrote.

I’m not a fan of Beatles’ covers, or even Beatles previously unreleased studio recordings. I prefer the original recordings by McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

“Blackbird,” has always been a favorite of mine, from the time I bought the “White Album” as a teenager. I never knew it was about the Little Rock Nine.

I took the song for what it was: a haunting melody combined with a wistful, dreamlike vocal. In other words, Paul McCartney at his best (he has said John Lennon added one line to the song, but won’t say which line).

I’m not a big fan of Beyonce’. She has long been a tremendous talent, but her style is not for me. That has changed with “Blackbird,” and her new album.
Beyonce’ is an artist willing to expand musical boundaries. She has an appreciation of music history, and how it can change society. And she is open to try all styles of music.
Like Aretha Franklin – the Queen of Soul – Beyonce’ is pushing her musical envelope and expectations. And on “Blackbird,” she shows, this is truly her moment to be free.

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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