Jul 072021
The Highwaymen Supergroup

The previous supergroups we’ve featured for Supergroup Week have been members of other bands, forming a new band with musicians based on their musical networks. This sometimes is a natural progression: band dynamics cause groups to fracture and leave members looking for a new team to create music with. Friends from a musical past-life join others that they’ve jammed with at some point to try something new. This time around, we have solo artists joining forces. This suggests a longing to collaborate and be part of a bigger musical effort. We also switch genres, from rock to country & western with some outlaw flair. The supergroup networks are still strong in the ’80s, often first marked by solo artists covering others’ work that they admired, and their legacies sparked new supergroups in the ’10s.

The Highwaymen – Highwayman (Jimmy Webb cover)

The Highwaymen formed in 1985 with a powerhouse of members: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson. They have all covered one another in various contexts; some have teamed up in other duos, and they even all starred in a movie together. But here we will focus on the cover that ended up being their namesake (the group released two albums before being formally named). The instrumentation in this version is very soundtrack-like, helping tell the stories of the outlaw lifestyle described in this song. Since everyone is a solo artist, there is no need to partition the song based on different instrument preferences; everyone is comfortable taking a turn singing.

The Highwomen – The Chain (Fleetwood Mac cover)

This female country star super group is an explicit homage to The Highwaymen. Formed in 2016, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires released a song, “The Highwomen,” co-written with Jimmy Webb, that gives a new perspective to the original setting. Here, perhaps taking a page from The Chicks’ book in choosing to cover a Fleetwood Mac song, the Highwomen absolutely crush “The Chain.” The power comes from them singing together rather than trading verses. Their harmony shows the advantages of collaboration; what they cannot do alone, they can do together as a team. “Keep us together” indeed.

Trio – After the Gold Rush (Neil Young cover)

Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt had all worked together in the ’70s (Harris and Ronstadt had even covered Parton), but it took until 1987 for the trio to formalize and release an album together. Like The Highwomen, this trio predominantly sing together in this song, taking advantage of harmony in their collaboration. The richness of sound that this brings to the song contrasts the original and makes Dylan alone seem rather wan in comparison. For the discerning ears out there, compare the trio’s cover to that of Parton alone and Ronstadt alone.

Pistol Annies – Tulsa Time (Don Williams cover)

The Pistol Annies, also (by coincidence?) a trio, definitely lean into the outlaw country vibe that The Highwaymen popularized. Miranda Lambert (coined Lonestar Annie), Ashley Monroe (coined Hippie Annie) and Angaleena Presley (coined Holler Annie) joined forces in 2011. After releasing two albums, they took a break to focus on their individual work, but they reunited in 2018 to release another album. Personally, I’m ready for another one. This song seems directly in line with the Pistol Annie vibe; it has a sassy beat that their version emphasizes even further. In yet another supergroup network moment, Eric Clapton recorded a cover of this song too.

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