4.5 stars out of 5
The Highwomen, a group comprised of country music stars Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby, provide a new, strong female voice in the male-dominated country genre.
Their self-titled album is subversive, as it establishes an up-front feminist voice in a sound typical of the genre. These women are recording music that is reflective of not only themselves and the country demographic but of women everywhere; it shows that country music doesn’t need to change outside of its long-established sound and style to be relevant and relatable.
The Highwomen is a group formed in the wake of The Highwaymen, a country supergroup formed by Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Between 1985 and 1995, the group performed and completed three albums. The Highwaymen created projects that are staples in classic country music and are reminiscent of drinking sweet tea on a porch in Tennessee.
The Highwomen are no different. According to Shires, her idea to create the group as a counterpart to the Highwaymen came as a response to the lack of women being represented in country music.
Their debut song, “Redesigning Women,” is a reminder of the often unfair adaptations that women have had to make throughout history. Women who are “redesigning” are able to adapt, change and face challenges that come about as a result of being a woman. It is an inspiring and motivational song that couldn’t come at a better time given the current state of affairs in the world.
Their album challenges viewpoints that are stereotypical of the country genre. They assert that women are more than objects to be possessed by men. They also include songs that are inclusive of different sexualities, ethnicities and backgrounds.
“If she ever leaves, it’s gonna be for a woman with more time / who’s not afraid to let her dreams come true/ If she ever gives her careful heart to somebody new / Well it won’t be for a cowboy like you,” The Highwomen sing in their song “If She Ever Leaves Me.” This song tells of a same-sex couple. They are including social justice issues in their songs are creating an environment in country music where sexuality can be openly discussed, where it wasn’t discussed or tolerated before.
In their self-titled song, the women sing “We are The Highwomen / Singing stories still untold / … We are the daughters of the silent generations / … But still we remain.” The Highwomen’s ability and willingness to comment on social justice issues and on wrongs against women in history gives them a different type of voice and power than the group they were modeled after. They also have the power to share untold stories and give a voice to women who have not historically had one.
All four women in the group are talented songwriters and all collaborated on pieces on the album. But one thing that was disappointing for me was that there is not one song on the album that is written by all four women together. I think that this would just add to the cohesion of an already developed group.
The Highwomen’s album is both easy to listen to and empowering. Hopefully, they will continue to inspire women in and out of the country music world and pave the way for future female artists.