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EF Country’s Song of the Week: The Highwomen – Highwomen

This week we’re looking at the latest release from the all-female country supergroup.

The Highwomen
Credit: Atlantic

We’re well into the swing of our EF Country Song of the Week feature and once again it’s been another fantastic week for new country songs!

With new releases from the likes of Miranda Lambert, Diplo and Morgan Wallen, Tenille Townes, Midland, Old Dominion, Blake Shelton and Trace Adkins, Jon Pardi, Canaan Smith, Kelleigh Bannen and Tanya Tucker, it was very difficult to pick a winner.

However, when it came down to it, I had to choose The Highwomen and Highwomen, the title track from their upcoming album. You can listen to the song here (be warned, there is some swearing):

For those who may not know The Highwomen, they’re the latest country supergroup, made up of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires – all of whom are firm favourites here at EF Country. This track also features Sheryl Crow and the UK’s very own Yola, and is a reworking of the song Highwayman, originally recorded by Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. It was written by Shires and Carlile alongside Jimmy Webb, who also wrote the original.

If I’m being honest, I was a little disappointed with The Highwomen’s first two singles, Redesigning Women and Crowded Table. Whilst lyrically they’re both great tracks with fantastic messages, for me the production didn’t quite work with all their voices singing together and consequently I thought some group members got a bit lost.

Highwomen, however, is very different. Whilst it’s still got that strong female empowerment theme running through it, the way it’s produced gives it a much fresher feel and more of what I was expecting from the previous songs. It opens with Carlile singing from the perspective of a young mother escaping persecution in Honduras, over a sparse guitar line that picks up into a steady pulsing beat. There’s a starkness about it that makes it incredibly affecting, the storytelling in the lyrics is so simple yet evocative – ‘we followed a coyote through the dust of Mexico’ conjures up some wonderful images – and the twist, when it hits you, is a subdued but powerful gut-punch.

By contrast, Amanda Shires’s verse has a delicate feel to it and a sense of resignation – giving her well-deployed swear word even more impact. Meanwhile, Natalie Hemby tells the tale of a preacher woman through smooth vocals with a little bit of a rock edge, bringing the stark landscape of the lyrics to life, and guest performer Yola sounds absolutely fantastic on her verse about a 1960s freedom rider, with incredibly powerful vocals and plenty of edge to her voice.

One thing which particularly stood out to me was the group’s harmonies on the chorus. Layered over a lush string arrangement, they blend perfectly together and it feels much more harmonious than the two earlier tracks. I feel you can definitely hear more of each member’s individual vocals, which adds to the feeling of it being a collective as well as giving each member an opportunity to shine. This is particularly so on the final chorus, where the group comes together to celebrate their strength as women (‘we carry the sons you can only hold’) and call out the institutions which knock them down, as well as offering a message of hope for the future.

Overall Highwomen is a brilliant take on the classic song with a strong folky feel and shows off each member’s strengths individually as well as together. The storytelling in the lyrics is spot-on – limited, but allowing the listener to build their own picture – and there’s a great sense of defiance without being too overblown. For me it’s the best song they’ve released yet and I’m hoping it’s a glimpse of what we can look forward to when the group’s album comes out next month.

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