When Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires formed the Highwomen as the female answer to the male country supergroup the Highwaymen, their first order of business may have been considered blasphemy by some: rewriting “Highwayman,” the 1985 theme song of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson’s all-star band. But Carlile and Shires not only received the blessing of the song’s writer Jimmy Webb (who recorded his own version in 1977), they also enlisted him in reworking the lyrics. The Highwomen, rounded out by Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby, premiered their version on Tuesday on Apple Music’s Beats 1.
“[The Highwaymen’s characters] all died doing things that men do. Willie was a bandit. Johnny Cash drove a fucking starship, nobody knows why,” Carlile told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “We rewrote it with fates that befell women: a doctor convicted of witchcraft; an immigrant who died trying to get over the border but got the kids over safe and sound; a preacher; and a freedom rider who gets shot.”
Carlile takes the verse about the Honduran immigrant, Shires inhabits the persecuted doctor, Hemby sings about being a preacher, and U.K. songwriter Yola guests to tackle the verse about the freedom rider. Sheryl Crow also appears on the track as a background vocalist, with Jason Isbell playing Stratocaster guitar opposite band members Phil and Tim Hanseroth.
“Highwomen” is the title track to the group’s upcoming album, set for release on September 6th.
The quartet has also been busy promoting their version of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” which they recorded for the soundtrack to the film The Kitchen. The Highwomen joined Jimmy Fallon, along with Isbell and the Hanseroths, for a special stripped-down version of the song for the Tonight Show‘s “Backstage Acoustic” series.