The Highwomen

Ok, here’s how it all happened: Amanda Shires thinks of starting a group and she tells Dave Cobb. Cobb says you have to call Brandi Carlile. Carlile calls Maren Morris. And then…. the magic no one expected happened.

Natalie Hemby had this title for a song Redesigning Women, she revived it and nervously sent in a recorded demo with her vocals doubled, singing the
melody along with herself. To Carlile, Shires, and Morris, the recordings crystalized the sound they had been imagining. That demo defined the group’s vocal style.

Introducing The Highwomen.

Full-time livin’ on a half-time schedule
Always tryin’ to make everybody feel special
Learnin’ when to brake and when to hit the pedal
Workin’ hard to look good till we die

The Highwomen exist in harmony, but especially in unison.

“The sound of women’s voices in unison is a metaphor for what this group is,” says Brandi Carlile, who joins Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires in a band that sings and writes together, and that exists to include, elevate, and amplify the role of women in country music.

Their union might seem unlikely with Carlile from Ravensdale, Washington, Hemby from Puxico, Missouri, Morris from Arlington, Texas and Shires from the Lone Star State towns of Mineral Wells and Lubbock, Texas. Yet together it has ignited a movement more enchanting than any one of them ever imagined. A folk-pop hero, a hit country songwriter, a genre-shifting superstar and an Americana heroine.

Way back in 2016, Shires read an article by the great writer Marissa Moss, an article explaining the logically inexplicable: Women don’t get a fair shake (rarely a handshake) on popular country radio. Shires’ exasperation led to anger, which led to something proactive, creative and helpful.

“She walked up to me in a bar and said, ‘I’ve been thinking and I want to start a band called The Highwomen.’” Carlile says. And they did. And they named it The Highwomen in tribute to the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman,” The Country Music Hall of Fame group featuring Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson.

“The Highwaymen” are ghosts,” Carlile explains. “In the song, Waylon was a dam builder who fell into concrete. Wille was a bandit who got hung. Kris died at sea. Johnny Cash drove a starship . . . he’s on the astral plane.”

“Highwomen,” a gumption-filled rewrite of one of country music’s classic songs, is the new album’s title track, with Carlile, Hemby, Morris, Shires, and guest Highwoman Yola and Sheryl Crow inhabiting characters who died through means that have historically persecuted women: One flees civil war in Honduras . . . one is convicted of witchcraft in Salem. In the song, the mortal become immortal.

“We all know that song,” Shires says. “But you haven’t heard our side.”

It’s all history, unless history exists in the present. Turns out, it does. There’s a history to female country music super groups making glorious statements. That history includes The Trio (Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt), Honky Tonk Angels (kd lang, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells), and Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley).

“This is the first time I’ve been part of a collective,” says Morris. “This is not some side project, it’s heartfelt, timely music.”

To make that music, The Highwomen gathered at RCA Studio A, Southern Ground Nashville, and Blackbird Studios with producer Dave Cobb, who has earned a reputation as a kindly renegade, helping create albums by like-minded forces including Carlile, Shires, Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Lori McKenna (who co-wrote “Crowded Table” on this album), Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Sturgill Simpson. Cobb’s approach is old-school, with plenty of analog equipment and musicians (including Cobb, Isbell, Sheryl Crow, Peter Levin, Chris Powell and Carlile’s favorite twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth) playing together live in the room.

“We had to get it right, but that’s how you get good,” Hemby says. “We’ve dealt with the same struggles, and the same oppressions,” This band is a place of freedom, and of free expression.”

That’s how you become a band, after spending years in individual pursuits. Carlile has released six prior albums, winning three Grammy awards for the Cobb/Shooter Jennings produced By the Way, I Forgive You.

Shires— who started out performing with The Texas Playboys and Billy Joe Shaver — has also authored six solo albums, has won the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year prize and has earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at Sewanee: The University of the South. As a member of the 400 Unit, Shires also won the Grammy Award for Best Americana Album for The Nashville Sound.

Hemby is among country music’s most successful songwriters, having written major hit songs recorded by Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, and others, and having won the Academy of Country Music’s Song of the Year prize for co-writing Lambert’s “Automatic.”

Morris first made her mark as a songwriter, penning tunes recorded by Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson, and she scored platinum hits with “My Church,” “80s Mercedes,” “I Could Use a Love Song,” and “The Middle” (with Zedd and Grey). Lately, her album GIRL scored the biggest debut streaming week for a country album by a woman, and it made its debut at the top of the Billboard Country Albums chart. Her Apple Music EP, Maren Morris: Reimagined was recorded with Cobb.

“I heard ‘My Church’ on Saturday Night Live, and I read a series of interviews,” Carlile says. “I fell in love with her words and her music.”

The Highwomen’s songs lean to tradition and rely on authentic emotion and expression. Shires’ “Cocktail and a Song” is a daughter-father story song reminiscent of Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train.” Morris’ “Loose Change” is a heel-kicking kiss off. “If She Ever Leaves Me" is a wry, song-of-the-year-worthy waltz sung by Carlile, from the perspective of a gay woman who watches a cowboy-type trying in vain to pick up her partner. And Hemby’s “Redesigning Women” is a joyful statement of purpose.

For more information, please contact Asha Goodman 615.320.7753 or Carla Sacks 212.741.1000 at Sacks & Co.