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Arts + CultureMusicBeyoncé's country swerve broke the charts—but don't forget the...

Beyoncé’s country swerve broke the charts—but don’t forget the Pointer Sisters

A preferential guide to previous artists who have spoken the same coded language of Americana roots music.

Beyoncé’s album, Cowboy Carter did the absolute thing, that one thing that many try and only a few achieve. 

It significantly indented the culture.

Yes indeedy, Houston native Beyoncé was at one point known more for her pop music acumen and less for her critical commentary on the state of America; but then Bey turned it around like a bull at a rodeo.

Nina Simone said: “You can’t help it. An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

Like it or hate it, Cowboy Carter, an album that traces the lineage of country and soul, and Bey’s most up-to-date conversation about the good ole U S of A, has already broken records as the most-streamed album in a single day in 2024 on Spotify.

Solange gave us A Seat At The Table in 2016, and now Bey provides us with the molecular structure that comprises said table.

Whether Cowboy Carter is great, timeless or not (that’s not the purpose here, you can read 5000 reviews on that subject anywhere), it’s a reminder that as much as we may seem to be polarized in this Buzzfeed, Blue State, Red State, TikTok Dance world, she has reminded us that country, not just with its black roots, remains a genre that musicians and creators from all genders, races, and lifestyles still find the most ease to borrow, hustle, steal, and transmit specific ideas through, by way of blues-based root music.

We still as a society, have more in common than we believe.

You can hear Dolly Rebecca Partons’ two mega-hits that are still popular today—”Jolene,” featured on Bey’s new album, and “I Will Always Love You”, both off her 1974 album Jolene— in 2024 in a corner bar during a DJ night, at a karaoke set, at a drag show, or even while shopping for wet wipes at Walgreens. Both country songs were penned by the legendary country heroine who has sold over 100 million records worldwide. These moments of Americana continually transcend genres, gaining new fans as the decades pass. 

It is well-documented that Prince’s world-conquering pop hit “Purple Rain” was inspired by Bob Seger’s big colosseum-like rock country ballads. Prince grew up observing Seger selling out shows, up to 20,000 seats, all over the Midwest in the late ’70s. So he crafted a hooky country-inspired refrain, “Purple Rain, Purple Rain,” and wrapped it around an anthemic rock ballad structure, with that dramatic guitar solo, resulting in the Purple One making a seminal rock ballad that was inescapable for the rest of the decade.

His most rock-star presentation with “Purple Rain” was too perfect. That steamroller of confection–country, rock, and blues–was such an exact science that it can be argued Prince spent the rest of his career going in the opposite direction of that one record. Such a magnet for examination, he would never reach that apex of commercial success ever again.

American popular music has always blended gospel, rock and roll, blues, soul, R&B, funk, and country, and many other styles into various hybrids. From the moment “Hound Dog” sprang from the lips and hips of Elvis—well, despite recent reports that he did not steal it, nobody can deny that the big drink of water knew Big Mama Thorton wrote it

We’d like to share with you some albums and songs that fly under the radar but speak the same coded language as Beyoncé’s latest conversation starter.

THE POINTER SISTERS, “FAIRYTALE”  THAT’S A PLENTY (BLUE THUMB RECORDS)

Written as a break-up song by Anita Pointer, she had become romantically involved with a KSAN deejay who had neglected to mention being married. “He lied to me, so when I found out, that’s when that song ‘came out.'” Anita was listening to a cassette by James Taylor—”I love him. I just think he’s so great. And I wrote ‘Fairytale that night.” The Pointer Sisters recorded the song at Quadraphonic Studios in Nashville, TN.

It was pitched to country and western formatted radio stations and debuted on the Billboard C&W chart on July 27, 1974. Achieving moderate country hit status, they introduced “Fairytale” in performance during their April 21, 1974 concert at the San Francisco Opera House; their live version was featured on the Live at the Opera House album released in September 1974.

The Pointer Sisters, who began in Oakland and sustained a successful career known for their ability to sing anything, began a series of promotional appearances in Nashville with an August 16, 1974 performance at Fairgrounds Speedway; on October 25, 1974, the group performed “Fairytale” at the Grand Ole Opry, marking the inaugural Opry appearance by an African-American vocal group.

Bonnie Pointer would play down the idea of a C&W hit by the Pointer Sisters being a novelty: “People think because we’re always trying something different we’re not sincere. Like country music. For us, it’s no joke… Our folks came from Arkansas and we grew up singing country songs. It’s part of us.”

“Fairytale” went on to win the Pointer Sisters the Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for the year 1974, marking the first awarding of a Grammy to an all-female vocal group and making the Pointer Sisters the only Black women to date who have won a Grammy in a country music category. Bonnie and Anita Pointer also received a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Country Song as the writers of “Fairytale.”

In addition, the song received another honor when Elvis Presley recorded a cover version on March 10, 1975, at RCA’s Hollywood studios. The track appears on his album Today.

LEO NOCENTELLI, ANOTHER SIDE (LIGHT IN THE ATTIC)

By 1971, guitarist Leo Nocentelli was an accomplished member of the bonafide, groove-pumping unit The Meters. But that wasn’t all—in addition, he was also working as a session musician for New Orleans R&B royalty, from Allen Toussaint to Lee Dorsey. Nocentelli was just trying to keep the creative light on in his head. These hardscrabble days are captured by Another Side, a previously unreleased studio album by Nocentelli that was unleashed in late 2021 by Light In The Attic. 

The release captures him working out ideas in blues, country, and Southern rock, finding new alchemy and inspiration secondhand from other singer-songwriters like James Taylor. As told to me by George Clinton 20-plus years ago, funk ain’t nothing but the blues sped up.

This record still blows me away to this day, not a bunk track on the album.

Buy it here.

SECRET EMCHY SOCIETY, GOLD COUNTRY, COUNTRY GOLD (BROKEN CLOVER RECORDS)

Broken Clover Records label boss and iconic SF character Mickey Darius warned me in late 2021 that he had something extraordinary lined up for a release in the middle of the next year.

He was right.

Oakland-based Cindy M. Emch dubbed the “First Lady of Queer Country,” accomplishes what all great musicians do: She ties the common thread that binds all forms of music—and in doing so carries the torch of 1970s queer country pioneers Lavender Country.

The project, Secret Emchy Society, packs gothy, spaghetti western vibes exploring identity and new uses for all the cowboy tropes into “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond Of Each Other,” a song written by Latin country musician Ned Sublette, but popularized by Willie Nelson (just re-recorded with Orville Peck) and widely recognized as the first LGBT-themed mainstream country song by a major artist. It’s on 2022’s Gold Country, Country Gold, with a potpourri of different shades of blues-based confessional music—Americana, California Country, Hellbilly, Goth, Honky Tonk. 

They come together under one very wide umbrella to ponder what is human by so many different monikers. While the liner notes imply a focus on electric guitar, the ghostly steel guitar accents that scare the bejesus out of “Another Time & Place” make this country record haunt and holler properly.

Check out the project here.

TORO Y MOI, SANDHILLS EP(DEAD OCEANS)

Wanna find out why fans dig artists? Read the comments section on YouTube videos.

“Love you, Toro. I bumped into you outside of the venue in Nashville back in 2014. I was tripping on acid and yelled your name from 2 blocks away. Ran up to you and gave you a big hug. You were super chill and didn’t mind at all. Made my year. Thank you for the yams.”

That’s the vibe the Oakland recording artist is giving off on this Sandhills EP, recorded in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, waiting out the pandemic with family. These tracks are twangy, solemn, and fully observational.

Like somebody watching time pass by, making notes, taking it all in, unrushed.

I mean, by now, nobody should be shocked when Chaz Bear releases something completely different from the project before.

Reliant on a guitar and raw vocals, Sandhills is a return to his musical roots as a folk and Americana recording artist. It’s a different genre than slippery R&B, but just as lyrical, expressive, and dope.

Grab it here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

John-Paul Shiver
John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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