When Lil Nas X released "Old Town Road" in 2018, country music didn’t know what to do. Billboard’s country charts decided the song wasn’t country enough to be considered for the charts, so Nas went back and remixed it with Billy Ray Cyrus, and we know what happened next. It also helped make country music popular with other crowds. Chart-topping, genre-bending artist Oliver Tree makes a similar attempt to cross-pollinate on his second studio album, "Cowboy Tears." The singer-songwriter and performance artist, originally from Santa Cruz, spent a big chunk of his quarantine in Northern California on his grandparents’ large property, where he found himself playing acoustic guitar and taking care of their animals. Inspired by the often-detrimental effects of toxic masculinity, he looked for a way to ask men to emote: Stop withholding emotions, stop letting your anger erupt in violent ways, instead of cry out in the open. That’s the thread woven throughout all of "Cowboy Tears," which is anchored by the opening and closing tracks, “Cowboy’s Don’t Cry” and “Cowboy Tears,” and features a series of songs in between that reimagine American country landscapes and ideas. "Cowboy Tears" might cause fights about how country the album should be. But pay those no mind, this a piece of work where Oliver Tree set out to reframe the styles and sounds expected of the genre. Though it may not be for everyone, it’s an enjoyable listen.
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