The Highwomen: Highwomen
It is no secret country music is not what it used to be. You never know what you may hear when you turn on country radio, but chances are it won’t be a woman. Amanda Shires has been advocating for women in country music for years, and she has drafted some big players for her new project The Highwomen, an all-female supergroup featuring Shires, Maren Morris, Natalie Hemby and Brandi Carlile. Their self-titled debut album dropped today, and it’s not what you think.
The name The Highwomen is an obvious nod to country music legends The Highwaymen, and you can almost hear the collective groans of “outlaws” everywhere when it is mentioned. As much as this album is anticipated by fans, several are actively chomping at the bit to tear it down. The most common misconception is that this is a protest album, and the fact that The Highwomen are already on the receiving end of criticism for pointing out how women are notoriously ignored on country radio; however, this is not a protest album. From track one to twelve you will find one undeniable common thread; it is all real country music. These women will get their point across by simply singing their songs.
The title track “Highwomen” sets the tone for the album. While it’s a play on the song “Highwayman” the song feels entirely new. I’m not much of a crier, but something about this song hit me right off the bat. Maybe it was the powerful addition of Yola – seriously, when she comes in, can you not feel it in your soul? – or maybe it was hearing the stories of women throughout history being permanently silenced, something we continue to fight in our current climate. Whatever the case, this is the one that will give you chills, and perhaps will be the answer to the inevitable question – “Where should I start?” – from your friends for years to come; the one that conveys the message at the very heart of this group, inclusion.
When the group sings “Crowded Table,” it feels more like an invitation than a statement, and I think that is exactly the message they are trying to send. This album feels like a movement. Even the catchiest of songs, like “Redesigning Women,” brings feminism to the forefront. You’ll find quickly that as women we are conditioned to be critical of each other, and this song will make you very self-aware of this fact. I caught myself rolling my eyes at the line “changing our minds like we change our hair color,” as if that wasn't a very feminist thing to say. These songs aren't just challenging the industry. They are asking us to challenge ourselves and be champions of equality leaving no woman behind.
“Highwomen” holds the spot as my favorite track on the album, but right on its heels is “If She Ever Leaves Me,” written by Amanda Shires, Shires’ husband Jason Isbell, and Chris Tompkins. Brandi Carlile seamlessly delivers this love song showcasing her unique singing style. It adds one more dynamic layer to an album about the female experience. At Newport Folk Fest, Isbell joked that he wrote the first “gay country song” for Brandi Carlile to sing, and as lighthearted as it sounds, it tackles societal norms and brings awareness to the gay community.
There are several fun songs on the album like “Don’t Call Me” and “Heaven Is A Honky Tonk” that are just classic country dancing songs. Somehow this album feels modern while taking country back to its roots. Will The Highwomen get radio play? If they don’t, there is only one glaring reason for it, because this eponymous album is a country masterpiece of which you’ll inevitably feel a part of. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a movement with these four powerhouse women? If you can’t play or sing, you’re at least invited to get the tattoo.
After all, we are “The Highwomen.”