On paper, The Highwomen might not seem to make much sense. You have pop-country’s reigning “It Girl,” a superstar songwriter, an Americana queen, and a Grammy winner who’s always deserved more attention than she’s received. Yet, somehow, the diverse foursome of Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile is one of the best things to happen to country music this decade.
Today (September 6), the powerhouse quartet released their debut album, The Highwomen, produced by Dave Cobb.
The project was the brainchild of Shires in response to the lack of females on country radio. Carlile was the first member enlisted, and so began the movement of The Highwomen. “Music was happening in the room, and you could almost touch it,” Shires tell the New York Times of the recording process. “It hadn’t happened for me in a long time. We would sing sometimes, and I would get so excited I would almost feel like being a ding-dong and crying.”
The album opens with “Highwomen,” a new female take on “Highwayman,” released in 1985 by the male super-group of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson. It sets the tone for the album, imbued with unique stories and powerful harmonies. Originally written by Jimmy Webb, the Highwomen enlisted him to make the lyrical swaps on their new version, which features each taking on the role of a different persecuted woman. “We rewrote it with fates that befell women,” Carlile told Rolling Stone. “A doctor convicted of witchcraft; an immigrant who died trying to get over the border but got the kids over safe and sound; a preacher; and a freedom rider who gets shot.”
The album’s first single, “Redesigning Women,” continues the story being told here, as they sing of modern women who do it all. “Redesigning women/ Running the world while we’re cleaning up the kitchen/ Making bank, shaking hands, driving 80/ Tryna get home just to feed the baby/ Skipping the bread for the butter/ Changing our minds like we change our hair color/ Yeah, ever since the beginning/ We’ve been redesigning women”
While the foursome may be “Redesigning Women,” there’s also no place in their lives for no-good men. This theme carries through “Loose Change” and “Don’t Call Me.” Morris leads the charge on the former, which she co-wrote, proclaiming, “Loose change/ I ain’t worth a thing to you/ Loose change/ You don’t see my value/ I’m gonna be somebody’s/ Lucky penny someday/ Instead of rolling around your pocket like loose change.”
The album continues with a diverse assortment of songs, covering various topics and tempos. The album’s most country song is “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” which easily could’ve been released by the likes of Reba or Dolly Parton thirty years ago. It’s a toe-tapping ode to the perils of motherhood. “I’m not a fan of mornings, and I love my Chardonnay,” they admit. “My name can’t be Mama today.” There’s also the clever “If She Ever Leaves Me,” a nod to Carlile’s sexuality, as she sings of a man attempting to pick up her wife. “If she ever leaves me,” She muses here. “It won’t be for you.”
The album also features heartbreak on “Cocktail and a Song,” written in tribute to Shires’ late father. There’s also the up-tempo “Heaven is a Honkytonk,” which celebrates the fact that all of our heroes are bound to end up in Heaven. “Jesus, He loves his sinners,” They remind us on the track co-written by Ray LaMontagne, “And heaven is a honkytonk.”
Perhaps the album’s most important track is the pre-released, “Crowded Table,” co-written by Hemby, Carlile, and Lori McKenna. Here, they sing of an inclusivity that’s a common thread through the entire album.“I want a house with a crowded table/ And a place by the fire for everyone.” The message here is simple, but necessary, conveyed in a way that feels sincere and poignant without being preachy.
Following the theme of inclusivity, the album features touches from a wide range of Nashville and music industry heavy-hitters, including Sheryl Crow, Yola, and Jason Isbell, as well as co-writes by Rodney Clawson, Lori McKenna, Miranda Lambert, and Ray LaMontagne. “Anyone can be a Highwoman,” Carlile says in a statement. “It’s about banding together, abandoning as much ego as humanly possible, holding one another up and amplifying other women every chance we get. Shoulder to shoulder. One push, one love.”
The Highwomen is now available you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released music here on our “New Country Music” playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.
The Highwomen Track List
1. Highwomen (written by Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Jimmy Webb)
2. Redesigning Women (written by Natalie Hemby, Rodney Clawson)
3. Loose Change (written by Maren Morris, Maggie Chapman, Daniel Layus)
4. Crowded Table (written by Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, Brandi Carlile)
5. My Name Can’t Be Mama (written by Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires)
6. If She Ever Leaves Me (written by Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell, Chris Thompkins)
7. Old Soul (written by Maren Morris, Luke Dick, Laura Veltz)
8. Don’t Call Me (written by Amanda Shires, Peter Levin)
9. My Only Child (written by Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires, Miranda Lambert)
10. Heaven Is A Honky Tonk (written by Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Ray LaMontagne)
11. Cocktail And A Song (written by Amanda Shires)
12. Wheels Of Laredo (written by Tim Hanseroth, Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth)
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