The short version: The Highwomen offer a strong start to their self-titled album with “Redesigning Women.”
Writers: Natalie Hemby, Rodney Clawson
The long version: This was bound to happen at some point, and what better time than the present?
I’m sure you don’t need me to give you a synopsis of who the Highwomen are, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock since Amanda Shires leaked the news in January, they’re a supergroup comprised of the aforementioned Shires, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby.
Made in homage to the Highwaymen, a group like the Highwomen can’t help but feel like an antidote to many country music fans. Of course, I’m not referring to disgruntled fans wondering where the traditional elements of country have gone, but rather those wishing to hear more female voices in the mix on country radio. Yes, female artists typically have fared worse in terms of representation outside of, say, the ‘90s throughout country music history (and even then, it was only “better” instead of equal), but considering radio consultants like Keith Hill are actively vouching for radio programmers to not play female artists (along with the numerous studies done this decade on this subject), there’s really no better time than now for this group to appear.
Funnily enough, too, outside of Morris, none of these artists are receiving radio airplay anyway, nor are they actively seeking it. It just also happens to speaks toward how independent country music and Americana have made headway into the mainstream conversation, forcing Nashville to have to care about artists it likely doesn’t want to, all while artists prove they can grow without the traditional shackles of radio. So whether this is the second coming of Trio or something new entirely, anticipation was rightly high for the coming of the Highwomen.
As for their first taste of music, “Redesigning Women,” it’s a genuinely solid song that does exactly what it needs to do – peak interest until the release of the album in September. More than that, however, it shows four artists combining their talents to create something that doesn’t necessarily fit in their individual wheelhouses.
Other critics have jumped at the chance to compare this to an old Loretta Lynn song, and it’s hard to argue with that in terms of the tones and vocal inflections. Still, while this plays out like an old country song, if there’s any area I’m going to nitpick with this song, it’s in the production. Dave Cobb’s usual style of getting out of the way and letting artists do what they want usually works well, especially when it comes to this song. But it also can’t help but feel like this song is a tad underproduced. Aside from a muted, smoky electric guitar that fades in and out, light drums to keep the beat, light acoustics and some swells of organ, there’s not much to drive the momentum of this song. For a song that’s seemingly reliant on jubilant energy, lyrically, it seems like a song where the tones don’t quite match its content.
On the note of lyrics, though, it would be easy to just quote the best one-liners here and call it a day. This is a song where you can guess where it’s going based on the title, but it’s still an absolute blast to hear lines like, “[we’re] a critical reason there’s a population” or “breaking every Jell-o mold.” That’s not to say there isn’t a forced rhyme here or there (the “heaven/eleven” line is rather predictable and disappointing in an otherwise well-written song), but the group’s attempt at writing a humorous ode to women’s history is executed very well. In terms of the aforementioned Lynn comparison, it’s easy to appreciate a song approach a real social issue with a frank earnestness to it without going overboard.
Vocally, Carlile is the dominant force here, though Shires gets one line. By the time the chorus hits, however, the four artists blend in well with some excellent harmonies carrying the track the rest of the way. This isn’t a song that tests any of their ranges, but in terms of pure technical power, they absolutely nail this song, especially when there’s a pretty good hook here, too.
Overall, “Redesigning Women” is a solid first step for the Highwomen. To be honest, this is the kind of song that’s meant more to satiate any budding interests surrounding the group rather than show off their best side to begin with, but there’s still plenty of commendable elements here to let the song stand on its own. Still, it’s hard not to want September to roll around a little faster after hearing this.