Brandi Carlile calls out the male-dominated music business and the National Rifle Association in the as-yet-unreleased song “Cowgirls,” which she dedicated to “the boys in the country-music industry” in her live debut of the tune. With the acoustic, mid-tempo song’s finger-pointing lyrics Carlile asserts, “I don’t believe in wealth and excess and I have had debt the size of Texas,” adding, “but I didn’t follow my dreams to dump my money in your slot machine.”
Singing, “You can’t get a drink in this town without Sunday mornin’ comin’ down,” she makes a sly reference to the Kris Kristofferson song popularized by Johnny Cash. But it’s the target of her next line that’s as unmistakable as it is potentially controversial, when she sings, to thunderous applause from concertgoers, “The NRA can kiss my country ass.” It’s a sentiment she shared earlier this year in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.
“Because they can!” Carlile said, noting that sharing her opinion is an important step in opening a dialogue with those who disagree. “I’m not afraid to say that. I’m not afraid of who it alienates. [After the election] it was like somebody turned on the black light and we were surrounded by the filth of our own ideology and our own complacency. That’s when I realized I was part of the problem. To not squander the opportunity I’ve been given is an evolution. If somebody believes I’m wrong, I want them to say it so we can engage. Big inclusive sentiments are a salve. They’re not appropriate.”
With the next verse, Carlile turns her attention specifically to country radio and casts her glance backward at the folk poetry that was once a staple of country music. “Listen to the radio and sing along, you’re not saying anything. You never laid a railroad tie or watched a lonesome cowboy die, or listened to the bells of freedom ring. Now that you’re just spittin’ in the wind, it’s time for you to let them cowgirls in.”
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There’s no word yet if or when this track will be commercially available, but in the meantime, Carlile and her Highwomen cohorts Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby will release their debut single, “Redesigning Women,” on Friday. She’s also set for a six-night stint at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium next January. Expanded from an initial three nights, the shows will also include appearances from Lori McKenna, Courtney Barnett, Lucie Silvas, Kim Richey, and Natalie Hemby.