The Highwomen and the Year of Brandi Carlile

Without a new album in 2019, Brandi Carlile nevertheless dominated: co-founding the Highwomen, producing Tanya Tucker, curating Newport Folk Fest and more

Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

BY Laura StanleyPublished Dec 11, 2019

From playing an instrumental role in the making of a music legend's comeback record to becoming part of a country supergroup with a purpose, in 2019 Brandi Carlile showed that her power in the music industry is far reaching.
Carlile kicked off 2019 at the Grammy Awards, where she had six nominations, including Album of the Year for her 2018 record, By the Way, I Forgive You, and four for the album's smash single, "The Joke." Along with taking home three awards, Carlile delivered a stunning performance of  "The Joke" that earned her a standing ovation.

Later that month, Carlile and Maren Morris released an emotive duet entitled "Common," from Morris' sophomore album Girl, which earned them a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Country Duo / Group Performance.
After dropping various hints about the formation of a supergroup called the Highwomen — a nod to '80s supergroup the Highwaymen — Carlile, Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby made the news official in April and performed together live for the first time at an event celebrating Loretta Lynn's birthday.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Carlile characterized the Highwomen as being "for anyone who wants to step aside and amplify the women to the left and right, and not compete." Carlile's vision for the Highwomen was on displayed in the music video for the band's lead single "Redesigning Women" which included a bunch of guest stars, including Wynonna Judd and Tanya Tucker.
As the Newport Folk Festival's guest curator, Carlile reinforced her commitment to camaraderie by billing the festival's first all-female headlining set which, on top of an appearance by the Highwomen, featured performances by Sheryl Crow, Maggie Rogers and Dolly Parton. Carlile also got the rare honour of singing "I Will Always Love You" with Parton herself.
Thanks in part to Carlile, a Tanya Tucker superfan, Tucker released her first album in a decade. Carlile, with her musical collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth, wrote the majority of the songs, contributed vocals and instrumentals, and Carlile co-produced the record with Shooter Jennings. While I'm Livin' was nominated for Best Country Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards and Carlile, along with Tucker and the Hanseroths, received two additional 2020 Grammy nominations — Song of the Year and Best Country Song — for the track "Bring My Flowers Now."
Carlile was a guest vocalist on two other albums released in August: she appeared on Zac Brown Band's "Finish What We Started" from their record The Owl, and Carlile teamed-up with Sheryl Crow, Sting and Eric Clapton to cover George Harrison's "Beware of Darkness" on Crow's supposed final album, Threads.
After much anticipation, the Highwomen's self-titled album was released in September, and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart. A few days after the album's release, Carlile was crowned Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors and Awards.
At an event celebrating Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday last year, Carlile became fixated on performing Mitchell's seminal 1971 album Blue in its entirety live in concert. In October, in front of a star-studded, sold-out crowd at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Carlile's dream came true. Mitchell even made a rare public appearance for the concert and joined other music legends like Elton John and Bonnie Raitt in the audience. Later on Instagram, Carlile described the night as "terrifying and transformative."
Check out Exclaim!'s Top 10 Folk and Country albums of 2019 here.

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