The power of a group
Newly-formed supergroup The Highwomen have released their debut album entitled The Highwomen, a powerful and elegantly crafted debut from the group. Their name pays homage to a previous supergroup The Highwaymen, but this album is a work all their own, a statement about who they are, full of force and depth. The group consists of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, all of whom are successful musicians own their own, but bringing their talent and vision together yields excellence.
The first track is entitled “Highwomen.” This is no coincidence. The Highwomen are announcing their presence and are unapologetic of what they have to say. Each vocalist gets a turn to declare themselves variously “I was a healer” or “I was a freedom rider” or “I was a preacher.” Though not their own personal stories, these are the stories of those that affect them and those they see as important, but unnoticed. “We are the Highwomen/ singing stories still untold” they declare.
The stories are sad and the emotion is raw: “I heard ‘witchcraft in the whispers and I knew my time had come/ the bastards hung me at the Salem gallows hill.” However, they are stories about strength. “But I am living still” ends the stanza, “but I am still around” ends the following stanza, “And we’ll come back again/ and again, and again, and again, and again” concludes the lyrics.
Amidst the beautiful lyrics, is a rich and moderately twangy country sound. With its use of acoustic guitar, banjo and other instruments, the album walks a tightrope between a more raw country sound and a heavily-produced pop country album, but avoiding the staidness of either. “Redesigning Women” is an anthem that begins with a catchy electric guitar riff and makes use of multiple voices singing in unison in the verses. They chant about “full time living on a half time schedule” and “running the world while we’re cleaning up the kitchen.”
The lyrics on the album attempt to be both deeply personal and universal. The Highwomen are trying to speak for many whose voices go unheard by using their own voices as a template. The hymn-like “Crowded Table” is one of their best examples of this. “I want a house with a crowded table/ and a place by the table for everyone” they sing, and later “If we want to build a garden/ we’re gonna have to sow the seed.” The lyrics apply universally, but resonate on a personal level. Lyrics throughout the album tend to focus on a comparison of the past or present to a more ideal future. They do not get idealistic, however, but try to act more as a call to action to “sow the seed.”
Each vocalist has a distinctive voice which they utilize dynamically. They sing separately, and at times together. Part of the power of the album comes in the trading of stanzas between the singers. The Highwomen is a group, but that group gives each of its members ample opportunity to have her own voice distinctive from the rest of the group. This difference keeps the song fresh, but it also aligns with the mission of the Highwomen. They sing together, but provide each woman a platform for her own voice.