Runaway June – made up of Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne – have already made history with their current single Buy My Own Drinks. The track recently hit the top 20 on the US country airplay charts and is continuing to climb, making them the first all-female act to achieve this feat in over a decade. They’ve also been proving themselves as a live act, having performed at C2C: Country to Country festival earlier this year and are currently out on tour in the US with Carrie Underwood. Now they’re finally releasing their long-awaited debut album, Blue Roses, produced by Dan Huff and Ross Copperman.
The album opens with Head Over Heels, which was recently released as a preview track. It’s a twangy, upbeat number with plenty of swagger, which sees the band swearing off a guy who only calls them when he’s drunk and lonely. Naomi’s smooth and husky lead vocals put me in mind of a young Shania Twain and I love the clever wordplay in the chorus, as well as the sassy, defiant feel of the lyrics. There are some nice rocky touches too and I can see it very quickly becoming something of a break-up anthem.
One thread running through the record is the 90s influences, as well as traditional instruments featuring on almost every track. There’s a bit of a revival of this sound going on in mainstream country at the moment, and Runaway June have definitely captured it here. The folky, mellow We Were Rich is a great example of this, with its Wonder Years and Wagoneer references sitting alongside nostalgic details like Dad’s paisley church tie or playing flashlight tag on a camping trip. Meanwhile, a fiery cover of Dwight Yoakam’s Fast As You sees Naomi whooping and yelling over a driving honky-tonk rhythm and crunching guitars.
The other thing which really stands out to me is the sense of female empowerment. Poppy breakthrough single Buy My Own Drinks has a great singalong chorus and buckets of cheekiness and self-possession, but with hints of something deeper that make it a little more mature than the typical break-up song. Meanwhile, the stomping Trouble With This Town perfectly encapsulates the frustration of just wanting to be over someone even though everything reminds you of them, enhanced by the detailed lyrics which bring the whole thing to life. The playful I Know The Way is a particular standout in this area, with its story of helping a heartbroken guy get over his ex enhanced by Naomi’s vocal runs and a melody that begs to be danced to. It’s handled with an incredibly light touch that gives it a carefree, relaxed feel not unlike some of the Dixie Chicks’ early work and, as a subject that not many female artists have sung about in recent years, is a very refreshing take on the concept.
But it’s not all kiss-off songs here either. The slower numbers let the band show off their stunning harmonies, particularly on the introspective I Am Too, where Naomi’s level delivery means you feel every bit of the despair and regret in the lyrics. Bittersweet, smouldering ballad Got Me Where I Want You also features some gorgeous high notes, whilst the acoustic Good Bad And Ugly brings out the romantic side of the group and has a lovely heartfelt sincerity and hopefulness about it.
The album closes with the title track, a loving ode to Naomi’s younger brother who was tragically killed in a car accident, and which made me cry the first time I heard it at C2C. The simple, stripped-back production is a departure from the rest of the record, putting the emphasis firmly on the trio’s stunning vocals, and it’s impossible not to be moved by the lyrics and storytelling. I also love the raw, visceral imagery of the narrator’s heart, ‘buried in a field, it’s food for the flowers’ as the birds cry instead of singing, whilst the a capella ending stays with you long after the record ends. It’s a very difficult song to pull off, but Runaway June do it with aplomb, and it shows great promise for the next stage of their careers.
For me, Blue Roses is the best debut album of the year so far and shows that Runaway June are primed to become one of the leading country bands in the next few years. It’s a sunny slice of pop-country with some great 90s influences as well as rocky touches, a great balance between more uptempo numbers and ballads, incredibly clever and vivid songwriting, and those beautiful harmonies pulling the whole thing together. It’s a highly accomplished piece of work from the trio and one that should win them over plenty of new fans, especially amongst those who like a more neo-traditional sound. Now here’s hoping they come back to the UK soon to play more of these songs live…
Track listing: 1. Head Over Heels 2. Buy My Own Drinks 3. We Were Rich 4. I Know The Way 5. Trouble With This Town 6. Got Me Where I Want You 7. Fast As You 8. I Am Too 9. Good Bad And Ugly 10. Blue Roses Record label: Wheelhouse Records (BMG/BBR Music Group) Release date: 28th June 2019