Loretta Lynn’s birthday bash at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville was the perfect occasion for another kind of celebration: the first appearance of the Highwomen, the new supergroup comprising Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby.
Backed by Dave Cobb, who is producing the quartet’s forthcoming record, Jason Isbell and the night’s ace house band, they sang a pitch-perfect version of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” which was a hit for Kitty Wells in 1952 before going on be recorded by Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for their album Honky-Tonk Angels (with a special appearance by Wells).
Just as “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” serves as one of country’s most emblematic Answer Songs — it was written in response to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” — the Highwomen serve as a “pirate ship,” coming in to challenge country radio and the Nashville establishment to play and support art from women, and to form a movement driven by empowerment, representation and sisterhood.
“We are making a four-part documentary and a record,” Carlile told Rolling Stone. “I re-wrote the original Highwaymen song with Jimmy Webb, with stories of women who died in protest. We wrote a bunch of country songs, Dave Cobb is producing the record and we are saying, ‘We are country artists,’ and we are going to ask they include us. And if they do or don’t, either way it will tell a story about feminism in rural American music.”
The Highwomen are currently at work on a record at RCA Studio A, and will be constantly evolving with a rotating crew of special guests like Janelle Monae, Sheryl Crow and more.
“It’s turning into a movement in Nashville,” Carlile said, “to very kindly, but insistently, say women need to be included.”