Summer is never my favorite time for music. The rosé slurry of danceability gets to be a bit much by the end of August. I don’t want sweaty air-conditioned fluff. I want gritty sing-along-ability that I can take outside with me.
And I think I found it when I, uh, editorially researched my way to this video of the Highwomen at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island playing “Highwomen,” their female-focused rewrite of the Waylon and Willie classic road song “Highwaymen.” Instead of sailors and robbers (and Johnny Cash in a starship—why?), it’s about the Salem witch trials and the Sandinistas. I immediately listened to everything they’d put out so far. Their self-titled album, out September 5, is some of this fall’s best music and some of the best music for fall in general. (Did anyone else grow up on this? Just the children of my weird dad?)
The Highwomen are a country-Americana supergroup composed of Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, and Natalie Hemby. The whole crystallizes the sum of the parts, and the parts were already diamond: Carlile, Shires, and Morris all have Grammys to their names; Hemby has written chart-toppers for A Star Is Born and Kacey Musgraves. And I’ll fight, but Morris’s “My Church” might be the best lead-foot-on-the-pedal road-trip sing-along of all time.
But it’s not just the musicality that makes the group powerful. Their coalescence is pointed. Shires cold-called Carlile around 2016 and asked her to start a band because she was frustrated by the ways women were underrepresented and underplayed. (Sound familiar, outdoor industry?) They’re trying to bolster the voices of women in music by pressuring country radio to play more women and through the songs themselves. It’s not easy to write a bop about gender bias, but try not to tap to “Redesigning Women.” They say they’re a movement as much as a band, and they want everyone on board.
It’s the right music for change, seasonally or otherwise. We’ve put together a playlist for you, including and inspired by the Highwomen. It includes the likes of Jason Isbell, Shires’s husband, who plays backup guitar; Dolly Parton, the patron saint of working women; and the original shitkicker, Tanya Tucker. It has Hemby-written hits and new tracks from Yola and Sheryl Crow, who are part of the album. We recommend cranking it on the drive to the crag or on the tailgate after a ride. And I’m pretty sure it gives us all carte blanche to go outside, sing loud, and mess around.
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