Friday was Highwomen release day.
It’s the record we were all waiting for. It’s probably the record many of you were searching when you stumbled onto this site. It’s the record we’ve all been listening to all weekend.
So there’s no need for me to fill this introductory space with anything other than talk about how I broke out my headphones during the baby’s midnight feeding to give it a first listen early Friday morning. Or about how my daughter came downstairs already streaming it on her iPad before we left for school that day. Or how I tried to buy a physical copy of the record at Target on Saturday only to find they had none, and their website only returned hits for The Highwaymen (Do better, Target).
So, that’s it. No talk of college football and how my team (Kentucky) lost their quarterback for the season on an illegal tackle. No talk of how everybody else in this town is going crazy because their team (Tennessee) is unexpectedly 0-2. No stories of my daughter getting attacked by fire ants at the Tennessee Valley Fair. None of that.
We’re just gonna go straight into a playlist bookended by songs from The Highwomen’s new record. Along the way, we’ll check in with a few more women-only supergroups, tell you who’s playing shows in Knoxville this week, preview one last Americana Music Awards category, and share a few new tunes.
Let’s get to it.
1. The Highwomen – “If She Ever Leaves Me”
This is not, as some have labeled it, the first “gay country song.” It’s far from it, in fact. What it is, though, is a song that lets us know, as much as any other on this record, The Highwomen are here to tell stories with voices that have been traditionally underrepresented in country music. Highwoman Amanda Shires originally wrote this as a heterosexual love song with her husband Jason Isbell and songwriter Chris Thompkins. It was Isbell who later had the idea that it could become a more powerful piece in the hands of Highwoman Brandi Carlile. The perspective shifted, and a classic was born.
2. Trio – “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”
Long before we had The Highwomen, there was the Trio. Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt set the standard for female supergroups back in 1987 when they united for the first Trio album. They reunited for a second offering in 1999, and a complete archival collection of their recordings was released in 2016. If the recent trend of women collaborating with women in country and roots music can be traced back to a single origin, the Trio is it.
3. Our Native Daughters – “I Knew I Could Fly”
I’ve given a lot of space to Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kia, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell on this blog in the last couple of months due to Our Native Daughter’s nomination for Duo/Group of the Year at Wednesday’s Americana Music Awards (and Giddens’ nomination for Artist of the Year at the same ceremony). Much like Giddens’ previous band The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Our Native Daughters has helped to redefine traditional American music and the role enslaved African Americans played in helping create it.
4. case/lang/veirs – “Atomic Number”
Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs first played together as a trio in 2013 and released their self titled album a few years later in 2016. The result is an album that brings together three innovative songwriters with resonant voices that soar into angelic harmonies.
5. boygenius – “Me & My Dog”
Where case/lang/veirs were all veteran artists at the time of their collaboration… Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus were each at much earlier points in their careers when they recorded together. Regardless, the trio of indie songwriters produced an EP in 2018 that felt like a seamless effort from a group that had been working together for years.
6. I’m With Her – “I-89”
Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan were already giants in the acoustic world when they first started playing together in 2015. Watkins gained renown as a fiddle player and vocalist for Nickel Creek, O’Donovan fronted the progressive string band Crooked Still, and Jarosz burst on the scene a decade ago as a multi-instrumentalist solo artist who scored a Grammy nomination before she graduated high school. Together, they’re nominated for Duo/Group of the Year at this year’s Americana Awards.
7. Pistol Annies – “Best Years of My Life”
The Pistol Annies formed in Nashville in 2011 as a collaborative effort featuring Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, and superstar Miranda Lambert. The Annies have been able to walk the line between the worlds of mainstream country and Americana like few others scoring two number one records on the country sales charts while also also earning Top 10 status on the Americana Airplay chart.
8. Mark Erelli – “Her Town Now”
This is the second single to see release from an as yet untitled Mark Erelli album. The song is a co-write with Chuck Prophet and features more of a rock sound than we’ve heard from Erelli in recent years. The song itself deals with a narrator discovering the harsh realities of a post break up life in which his hometown no longer feels like his own.
9. Josh Ritter – “Getting Ready to Get Down”
Every so often this song just gets into my head, and I have to listen to it a few hundred times to get it back out again. It popped up again one day last week.
10. Israel Nash – “Evening”
I found myself playing this song from Israel Nash Gripka’s debut album New York Town on my radio show when I came back to the airwaves a few weeks ago. As it was spinning I fired off a tweet encouraging folks to track down Nash’s (then Israel Nash Gripka) first two albums. Nash responded to the tweet by saying how he thought WDVX was one of the only stations in the country that played is music back then. It’s always nice to know that we at the station played any small part in helping an artist get started early in their career.
11. Caleb Caudle with Lydia Loveless – “Trade All the Lights”
12. Austin Lucas with Lydia Loveless – “Wrong Side of the Dream”
13. Supersuckers with Lydia Loveless – “I Can’t Cry”
Last week, I kicked off the playlist with a song from Lydia Loveless. It was followed later with a new track from Caleb Caudle. I’ve been thinking about the duet the two turned in on Caudle’s 2014 album Paint Another Layer on My Heart ever since. As a bonus, I’m also tossing in a couple more Loveless duets from 2015 (Supersuckers) and 2016 (Austin Lucas). I’ve been know to play all three in succession on the radio from time to time.
14. Martin Harley – “Brother”
Martin Harley is a British songwriter whose work I got to know, oddly, through his collaborations with Knoxville bass player (and former WDVX sound guy) Daniel Kimbro. I learned about his new single via a twitter post form another former Knoxvillian and frequent Harley tour partner Sam Lewis. It’s the second song released so far from Harley’s upcoming album Roll With the Punches.
15. Yola – “Love All Night (Work All Day)”
16. Amanda Shires – “Leave it Alone”
17. Lori McKenna – “Happy People”
18. John Prine – “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door”
It’s finally here. The Americana Music Awards Show takes place Wednesday night at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville as part of the annual Americana Music Festival. I’ve been handicapping some of the major categories here over the past few weeks, and this is the last one we’re going to examine before the show… Album of the Year.
The nominees are Walk Through Fire by Yola, To the Sunset by Amanda Shires, The Tree by Lori McKenna, and The Tree of Forgiveness by John Prine. Honestly? I have no idea how this one is going to break, but I’m thinking Prine probably takes it. The Tree of Forgiveness was his first album of original material in 13 years, and it delivered the best sales chart performance of his career as well. Roll Prine’s legendary status into the mix, and it’s probably enough to top Yola’s breakout, Shires’s daring leap, and McKenna’s flurry of gut punches.
19. North Mississippi Allstars with Jason Isbell & Duane Betts – “Mean Old World”
The latest release from the North Mississippi Allstars comes our way October 4. Up and Rolling will once again feature brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and their own signature take on the blues and roots music they learned at the feet of their father, legendary producer Jim Dickinson. For this song, the Dickinson boys bring Jason Isbell and Duane Betts on board to record a tune their father once recorded with Eric Clapton.
20. Tami Neilson – “Hey Bus Driver”
Valentine’s Day still seems like it’s a long way away, but that’s how long we have to wait for the new album from Tami Neilson. Until then we have this first single from the upcoming album Chickaboom. this song ought to give you a good taste of the big sound that can be created when the “hot rockin’ lady of country rockabilly and soul sings.”
21. Michaela Anne – “I’m Not the Fire”
This is the third song I’ve featured from Michaela Anne’s upcoming release Desert Dove. I got an advanced copy of the full record a few weeks ago, and I can say with confidence that I think you will all enjoy it when it gets its public release on September 27.
22. R.E.M. – “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (remix)”
I can’t believe that R.E.M.’s Monster is turning 25. That seems crazy to me. This is the record that finally hooked me on my favorite band and sent me on a buying frenzy that had me collecting their previous catalog in the span of a few months my junior year of high school. It’s now 25, and I am old. Anyway, R.E.M. is reissuing the album on the occasion of its anniversary, and they usually do these anniversary editions right. Monster is getting a six-disc release with demos, live recordings, a blu-ray edition of the Road Movie concert film, and a full remix of the original album by original producer Scott Litt. Take my money.
23. Zephaniah OHora – “Songs My Mama Sang”
I was on the air doing my show last week when a listener sent me an email asking who he should go see next weekend at the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Of course, there are several great names on the bill as usual, but he wanted a tip on someone who wasn’t a headliner. I immediately steered him toward Zephaniah OHora. This one is from his debut, but be on the lookout for a new album OHora recently finished recording with the late Neal Casal as producer.
24. Jill Andrews – “Sorry Now”
The last time I saw Jill Andrews was exactly one year ago this week at The Mercy Lounge in Nashville during Americanafest. I caught her solo showcase on the opening night of the festival (after walking over from John Prine at City Winery), and she told me afterward that she would be releasing a couple of projects in the following year. Well, her duo The Hush Kids put out their debut the following month, and the first single from Andrews’ new solo album dropped last week… right on time for that one year threshold.
25. Robbie Fulks – “I’ll Trade You Money for Wine”
26. Folk Family Revival – “Addicted to the Road”
27. Karen Jonas – “Country Songs”
28. Molly Tuttle – “Good Enough”
Here toward the end of this week’s list, let’s take a look at some folks who are headed to Knoxville to play some shows this week.
We’ll start with Americana giant Robbie Fulks, who will be holding court at Barley’s in the Old City on Sunday night (9/15).
Folk Family Revival and Karen Jonas will be at WDVX for a double bill on the Blue Plate Special on Thursday (9/12). Folk Family Revival will also play a show at The Open Chord Thursday night.
Molly Tuttle is helping WDVX close out the Summer Sessions series in Oak Ridge Saturday night (9/14) along with The Alex Leach Band. This is one you should try not to miss.
29. The Grascals – “Drivin’ My Life Away”
My love for fun bluegrass covers is well documented, and this take on an Eddie Rabbit classic certainly qualifies. The Grascals are bluegrass giants, and their new album is out now.
30. The Highwomen – “Loose Change”
More Highwomen on the way out, as promised. Maren Morris takes point on this one.