Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard assembles a group of Seattle all-stars for a cover of “Highwayman,” the Jimmy Webb song about the eternal spirit that became the signature of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash’s country music supergroup, the Highwaymen.
As part of a benefit concert supporting Seattle Children’s Hospital, Gibbard recruited a small army of Pacific Northwest musicians: Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, and Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan join Gibbard in each taking a verse of the song. Gibbard handles the opening highwayman verse, McKagan takes the sailor segment, Brock the dam-builder, and Lanegan the space traveler. It’s a mostly faithful rendering, with members of Death Cab, Foo Fighters’ Nate Mendel, Jefferson Angell, of McKagan’s other band Walking Papers, and Austin guitarist Ian Moore all pitching in. Couch Riffs, the online video and podcast operation run by musician Mike Squires, connected all the dots.
Gibbard has been especially busy during quarantine, hosting regular charity concerts online in which he performs songs by Death Cab, reunites his project the Postal Service, and covers songs by artists like Radiohead and Fountains of Wayne. “We have a moral obligation to pitch in,” he told Rolling Stone. “There’s no excuse not to.” Last week, Gibbard and Death Cab for Cutie released an EP of cover songs by Georgia artists to support the voter rights organization Fair Fight Action.
McKagan, while best known for his role as bass player in Guns N’ Roses, is no stranger to country music. In 2019, he released the solo album Tenderness, produced by Shooter Jennings. He was also regularly playing another Jimmy Webb-written song while on tour with GNR: “Wichita Lineman,” made famous by Glen Campbell, who also recorded his own version of “Highwayman.”