Welcome to The Singles Bar, a review series focused on new single and song releases.
John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” His legacy was born out of the blood, sweat and tears of his brow–a young boy in 1914 from Winterset, Iowa would be plopped down upon a path to sheer greatness, becoming one of the most prolific icons of modern cinema. When his family moved to Glendale, Calif., little did he know his life would be changed forever. A football scholarship took him to the University of Southern California, where he attended until a bodysurfing accident ended his professional athletic ambitions. That’s when he took a job at a local movie studio to make a living during the 1920s. Through his work at the Fox Film Corporation, he met John Ford, who began placing him frequently as an extra in major pictures, and soon, he nabbed his first starring role as Breck Coleman in the 1930 feature The Big Trail, directed by Ford colleague Raoul Walsh.
Born Marion Robert Morrison, the bright-eyed newcomer then donned his stage name, John Wayne, as a way to sell tickets, at the urging of film execs. And the rest is history: he went on to star in such films as 1939’s Stagecoach, 1948’s Red River and 1959’s Rio Bravo, among countless others. His courage is what took him to such a pinnacle of celebrity; without his tireless work ethic, the western film genre might not have become such a massive commercial movement. “When you stop fighting, that’s death,” he avowed in The Big Trail, a rather insightful line which could define his entire movie-making career. He wielded insight both on and offscreen, so it’s no wonder his granddaughter Jennifer Wayne would follow in his footsteps, abandoning her pro-tennis career for one in music.
Wayne, one-third of up and coming trio Runaway June, alongside guitarist Naomi Cook and mandolin player Hannah Mulholland, escaped the toils of an athletic career for something more liberating–eerily reminiscent of her predecessor’s walk. The group first splashed onto the scene last year with the searing “Lipstick” single last summer, cementing their obvious Dixie Chicks influence but polished with a modern lilt. Following up such a hyped-up debut is a tough task, but they’ve returned with “Wild West” (out now) which continues their earthy aesthetic and sturdy harmonies. Dusted with direct references to the western film genre–“baby, you could steal my heart like Jesse James / Or come in guns a blazing just like ole John Wayne,” reads the vivid opening lyric–the song is vastly more restrained, torn apart with lonesome guitar moans and soft pitter-patter of drums. The song is co-written by Wayne with Justin Lantz (Old Dominion, Kane Brown) and Billy Montana (Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory,” Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket,” Jo Dee Messina’s “Bring on the Rain”).
Drawing comparisons between intoxicating, escapist love and rebellious “outlaws making a run for it,” it is tightly wound around creating a mood, much like Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” (from 1999’s Fly), and hits on the allure of romanticism. It’s certainly not breaking new territory, but in the age of pop and hip-hop dominating radio playlists, it is quite invigorating and reminds the listener of country’s more organic and breathy-folk roots. Their influences of Sheryl Crow and Alison Krauss distinctly inform the airy production style, too, getting lost in “If It Makes You Happy” and “Ghost in This House” tones, respectively. “Come on, boy, be my cowboy, keep me by your side all night. Hold me tight like a pearl-handled .45, and just let me be the whiskey on you breath,” they unthread on the hook.
Runaway June are two for two so far, setting the stage for one of the most anticipated debut albums in quite a long time. Ready for it.
Grade: 4 out of 5