Music Opinion

Beyoncé runs the world, but country puts up a fight

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Beyoncé has drawn criticism for releasing country music (Screenshot via YouTube)

Some of the music world's biggest artists are in the news this week with Beyoncé going country, the union of two British legends and Hotel California falling down. IA's music man, David Kowalski, reports.

Country radio refuses to play Texas Hold 'Em

Iconic artist and creative chameleon Beyoncé has found a new sound and load of controversy with it. She has put together a country album entitled Cowboy Carter due out on 29 March. The first single, Texas Hold ‘Em, has a racy video, loads of banjos and acoustic guitars, and she sings of dive bars and line dancing. It’s quite well done, actually.

Musically, it lends itself more towards a group like The Lumineers than it does Garth Brooks, but this track is built more on the roots of country music than the other recently contentious country track, Old Town Road by Lil Nas X.

The controversy comes from a country radio station in the U.S. initially refusing to play the song, turning down listener requests for it. After all, she’s Beyoncé, right? Pop star, R&B powerhouse. Totally not country, right?

Well, the station’s program director hadn’t actually heard the song yet and dismissed the request out of hand straight away. In going viral, pundits called the decision racist. It may look that way on the surface. However, there’s more going on in this situation.

The thing is, the Nashville country music industry is one of the most insular and cloistered scenes in the world. It also has the most ferocious and veracious gatekeepers, ensuring the ring-ins and riff-raff are kept out. If an artist wants to make country music and also be successful at it, they have to write with Nashville writers, have the songs published by Nashville music publishers, recorded in Nashville studios with Nashville session musicians.

Tick these boxes and you will be welcomed by the establishment, accepted into the Grand Ole Opry — and also afforded lots of airplay on country radio.

If they come from somewhere else and they want to make country music, and they don’t follow these rules, then sling your hook and sail on out of here. This is the reason why “outlaw country” (also known as alt-country) exists — not because the artists within the genre have done hard time, but rather because they haven’t followed the establishment rules and the guards at the gate keep them out.

Beyoncé is most likely being kept out because she is an unknown quantity, a stranger in a strange land. That she makes country music – and does it well – is clearly a threat. She is, however, entitled to make whatever music she wants to and long may it be so — the world is hers to own.

John Squire and Liam Gallagher collide on a new album

Hailed as a great British music event, a “meeting of the minds”, if you will, former Stone Roses guitarist John Squire and former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher have come together for a duet album. Both bands are legendary in their own right and '90s music fans are frothing at the mouth for this record.

Is it the seismic event everyone is hoping it would be? Not really, but it is a very listenable and enjoyable record. Squire does the heavy lifting here, adding his trademark six-string textures across a set of solid Britpop, occasionally psychedelically leaning tracks while Gallagher sings in his trademark nasal yowl. Although, these days he’s a lot less aggressive in his delivery than he was in his Oasis heyday. I’m going back to play it again.

Hotel California collapses

Last time I wrote in these pages, I mentioned that Don Henley of the Eagles was suing a few memorabilia traders for being in possession of some of his notepads of rough lyrical ideas. In a spectacular turn of events, the case has been thrown out of court, ostensibly because of a procedural error on behalf of Henley and his lawyers.

Henley and his manager, Irving Azoff, testified for the prosecution first, making statements and other claims to paint the defendants as being liable. However, under attorney-client privilege, some 6,000 pages of documentation about the case, some of which could have been used to exonerate the defendants, were tied up in the possession of Henley.

For reasons I can’t work out, Henley apparently waived his right to attorney-client privacy and the 6,000 pages were handed over to defence counsel. Lawyers for the defence petitioned the judge that this information should have been handed over before the trial, as they couldn’t possibly use it in their defence and could have used it for cross-examination.

The judge upheld the defence petition and threw out the case. Henley has claimed victimhood and that he will fight this battle further within the civil court system. I don’t see how he can succeed when he was the cause of the acquittal in the first place. How does he think he can succeed in a civil case when this current criminal one was fatally torpedoed by his own hand?

As the band themselves said on vinyl in 1979, I can’t tell you why.


Lava Fangs breathe fire again

As soon as I heard the name Lava Fangs, I knew I had to take a listen to this band. I am a sucker for a cool moniker and Lava Fangs is a great one. The Melbourne-based band has been doing the rounds for a few years now, making a big power pop racket that is both fresh and familiar at once. The new single, ‘Where Did She Go?’, is another fine entry in their canon of musical finery, with lush harmonies and ringing guitars for miles. Look out for a new LP in May 2024.


Vale Karl Wallinger and Eric Carmen

Briefly, before we finish, a quick nod to the passing of two musical legends, one more well-known than the other.

U.S. pop songwriter and angel-voiced singer Eric Carmen has left us, aged 74, apparently passing away in his sleep. He was a member of '70s power pop band The Raspberries before striking out as a solo artist, with hits throughout the '70s and '80s such as All By Myself, Make Me Lose Control and ‘Hungry Eyes’ from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.


Also, this week we lost Karl Wallinger, who was a member of two important '80s bands — The Waterboys (he contributed to their eternal radio hit The Whole Of The Moon) before forming World Party and having a pair of other essential classics, Ship of Fools and ‘Put the Message In The Box’. He was 66.

Thanks for the music, gentlemen.


Until next week…


David Kowalski is a writer, musician, educator, sound engineer and podcaster. His podcasts 'The Sound and the Fury Podcast' and 'Audio Cumulus' can be heard exclusively here. You can follow David on Twitter @sound_fury_pod.

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