The Highwomen – The Highwomen

The HighwomenTry to find an artist or album released this year with an introduction as epic as the one on the album by newly-formed supergroup The Highwomen.

The Highwomen, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby, make a grand entrance with a song that plays like the breaths of legend rolling over the hills and valleys of the American midwest, featuring a verse from British roots soul singer Yola and backing vocals by Sheryl Crow. It’s fitting for a song rewritten from the original by the very group that inspired their formation: The Highwaymen – consisting of legends Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson.

Where the original told the story of a man whose spirit lived on in reincarnations of men defined by their work: a highwayman, sailor, construction worker, and a starship captain in the future, the updated version tells of women who gave their lives for the fight against racism, sexism and other injustices through centuries, whose spirits continue live on through story as the fights continue.

That song sets the stage for an album that bends the rules of country music and pushes the envelops of tradition, but the political undertones aren’t as direct through the rest of the record, save for a commentary on gender roles and how much women actually contribute in Redesigning Women, and the gay country love song If She Ever Leaves Me, (written not by Brandi but instead by Shires with Jason Isbell and Nashville songwriter Chris Tompkins.)

As much as the album can be said to be a statement on the power women can and do have in country music, they also make time to have fun. The tongue-in-cheek My Name Can’t Be Mama plays on the idea that sometimes, mama just needs to have fun, while the kiss-off track Don’t Call Me tells the ex in-need to call anyone else – “except Brandi,” and me.

For an album that has the potential to be anything but, it is surprisingly ordinary, but don’t mistake that for boring. Even the most pleasantly ordinary track on the record is one that plays as great as the statement makers. Loose Change is a melodic tune led by Maren Morris about someday finding someone who values your worth “instead of rollin’ ’round in your pocket like loose change.”

The four women share vocals across the album, each taking on lines, verses or entire songs, but sometimes they all sing together, and four can be a crowd. On Redesigning Women, they overpower each other, leaving little room for either to shine, individually or as a group, but there are points where they blend nicely. On Heaven Is A Honky Tonk, as one takes a slight lead in the mix, the others fit right in with heavenly harmonies throughout.

Each of the four artists plays a starring role, contributing both lyrics and vocals throughout – along with an impressive list of guest writers from the landscape of country and Americana, and each of the 12 tracks holds a deserving spot on the record. The strengths lie in the bookends – the powerful intro and the Grammy-worthy closing track, The Wheels Of Laredo, but the collection remains strong from start to finish. It wouldn’t be an injustice to any of the legends who came before them to say that The Highwomen is an instant classic worthy of sharing the same shelf.

Five stars

Check out: Highwomen, Wheels Of Lerado, If She Ever Leaves Me, Loose Change

Tracklisting
1. Highwomen
2. Redesigning Women
3. Loose Change
4. Crowded Table
5. My Name Can’t Be Mama
6. If She Ever Leaves Me
7. Old Soul
8. Don’t Call Me
9. My Only Child
10. Heaven Is A Honky Tonk
11. Cocktail And A Song
12. Wheels Of Lerado

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