The Highwomen

The Highwomen

Elektra, 2019

http://www.thehighwomen.com

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/29/2019

This album was not made for me.

That shouldn’t be surprising, but it is, because this is a country music album. I’m a white, Southern, evangelical man – in other words, I am the embodiment of country music’s core demographic. Country radio’s endless parade of rock-infused songs by men with boots and non-threatening twangs is made by men who look like me, think like me, and sound like me, and as a result, the music is almost uniformly made for folks like me.

The Highwomen was not made for me.

It announces that with its opener, a haunting tapestry of tales that rewrites Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman,” telling the untold stories of women whom history has ignored or forgotten, from immigrants to preachers. Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shirles, and Natalie Hemby, all stars in their own right, deliver the song’s chorus as the unified mission statement it is: “We are the Highwomen / Singing stories still untold / We carry the sons you can only hold.” This supergroup has arrived to crash the boys club of country music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But don’t think they’re doing so without a sense of humor. The next track, “Redesigning Women,” puts that fear to rest with a self-deprecating yet elevating toe-tapper that relishes stereotypes one minute and busts them the next (“Pulling up the floors and changing out the curtains / Some of us are saints and some of us are surgeons / Made in God's image, just a better version / And breaking every Jello mold.) “Loose Change” keeps the fun going as Morris takes the lead vocals with a radio-friendly song about valuing yourself that enjoys the same spirited, clever wordplay as the song preceding it.

Family is important to the Highwomen, but here again they refuse to be shoved into a corner. In “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” the ladies trade knowing verses about the need to be defined by something besides motherhood (even if just for a day), yet in “My Only Child,” Hemby’s affection for the role couldn’t be more sincere, or more tender.

If you’re just looking for an old-fashioned love song, you’ll have a hard time finding one to beat the Jason Isbell-penned “If She Ever Leaves Me.” Yet even here the Highwomen are looking to break barriers – as sung by Carlile, a lesbian, is about a woman’s love for another woman – hardly the kind of material you’re likely to see performed at the CMA Awards any time soon.

Each song on The Highwomen makes it clearer: this supergroup has something to say, and it’s going to sound different than what you’re used to hearing from country’s establishment. As they announce in “Crowded Table,” which appropriately has no solo performances, “Everyone is broken and everyone belongs.” It’s a message we’re not used to hearing from country music’s stars, but the Highwomen are here to change that.

Country music has prospered (at least financially) for the last two decades by pumping out stars who look like me and sing straight to me. But The Highwomen is a line in the sand, an announcement that times are changing, at least if these ladies have their way. This album wasn’t made for me – and the result is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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