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Indeed, the whole of makes exceptional, smart use of electronic effects and “found” sound elements—there’s a telling credit for “all things beaten and broken”—to provide appropriately twitchy backdrops for Brill’s confessional lyrics, which convey a fully-realized disaffect.He’s a solid lyricist (“I Take It Back” opens with, “I apologize for the face that I made/When you said that he died,” to choose just one of the more obvious go-to lines), and the overarching melancholy and desperation of standouts like the title track and “All You’ll Want” give the album the kind of thematic coherence that’s been missing in so many of the year’s releases.serves as a fitting thesis statement for the project, using the aesthetics of neotrad-country to unpack the group’s feminist concerns.
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“If She Ever Leaves Me” is a slick countrypolitan number in which Shires plays with gender expectations, warning a cowboy eyeing her (female) date that “if she ever leaves me, it won’t be for you.” “Heaven Is a Honky Tonk” imagines the afterlife as a barroom with an endless jukebox, while “Cocktail and a Song” details a dying father’s wish that he be remembered fondly.
The album’s closer, “Wheels of Laredo,” is a high-lonesome song about wishing to be heading back to a lover’s arms.
That said, it’s the inspired technologically-enhanced production that sells ountry music has always had a misogynistic streak (think of the proliferation of murder ballads and she-done-me-wrong songs), and the Highwomen—a supergroup consisting of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires—was born out of a desire to combat the genre’s lack of gender diversity.
Shires has said that the “high” in the group’s name should be taken to mean exalted or honored, but it’s also a nod to the outlaw country supergroup the Highwaymen.
Even a lush cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time”—which, sonically, might have fit better on Distilled to their barest elements, the songs on this album reveal themselves not to be hollow vessels for vapid self-absorption, but frank assessments of the psychic effects of a world spiraling into chaos.