Early in the ”outlaw” music movement — before star-maker machinery turned the word into a gimmick — outlaw meant ”brotherhood,” or at least it did to the men who made the music. When the label finally lost its sheen, someone came up with ”highwayman” to replace it, and in 1985 Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson recorded an album by that name that set the standard for elegant, elegiac country ensemble performance.
Now, on Highwayman 2, Nelson et al. evoke the essence of brotherhood in as fine a sequel as could be imagined — a noble and romantic collection of tone poems that salutes the magnificent and indomitable spirit of the American hero (”American Remains,” ”Anthem ’84”). Although Cash and Nelson get more of the solo spotlight, the four usually trade choruses with a dramatic strength none ever achieves alone, each bringing his own historical viewpoint to the project. It’s as if Mount Rushmore suddenly burst into song. A