CD REVIEW FEATURE
BLUE ROSES (Wheelhouse Records-BBR-BMG)
BLUE ROSES FOR BILLY
“I drink because I smoke, I smoke because there's fire/ a flame unquenchable burns higher and higher/ my love is long gone, a love I thought was true/ now even the wild roses are blue.” - Blue Roses - Caroline Cutbirth-Jennifer Wayne-Naomi Cooke-Marcus Hummon.
Californian trio Runaway June have good reason to bare their hearts on their pathos primed title track finale of debut album Blue Roses , produced by Dan Huff and Ross Copperman.
The song was inspired by the tragic death of lead singer-guitarist Naomi Cooke's brother Billy Dukes.
“That moment in our set particularly kind of brings everybody in because it's so raw and it's so naked. It's just Mulholland's guitar and our voices," Cooke explained.
“And it's imperfect," Wayne added.
"Like a perfect rose is like a red, beautiful rose. A blue rose is imperfect and that's such a big theme of our album is honesty. And talking about the imperfect moments - our not-so-pretty moments.”
Naomi, Hannah and Jennifer met in Nashville and formed Runaway June four years ago.
They became first all-female trio in more than 14 years to earn three Top 40 hits and become an ACM and CMT nominated band.
The trio was named CMT's Next Women of Country with major tours and opening slots with stars including Garth Brooks and Underwood.
Cooke hails from Cedar Key, Florida , where she grew up listening to Alison Krauss before debuting on stage at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville .
She co-wrote Tyler Farr's top 40 hit Better in Boots .
Singer-mandolinist Mulholland was raised in Malibu where she listened to Sheryl Crow and began writing songs at the age of six.
Wayne quit a pro tennis career and was originally in the trio, Stealing Angels, and co-wrote Texan spring tourist Eric Paslay's top 20 hit She Don't Love You.
Both Jennifer's grandmother and one of Naomi's sisters are named June.
The trio wrote debut single Lipstick with Rebecca Lynn Howard, Caroline Hobby - also a former member of Stealing Angels - and Elisha Hoffman.
It was released in 2016 via Broken Bow Records' Wheelhouse Records imprint.
BUY MY OWN DRINKS
“I can walk my own self to the front door/ I can take my own self to bed/ I can medicate my own headache/ I can be my own boyfriend/ I can buy my own drinks/ I can pay my own tab/ at the end of the night when they cut on all the lights/ I can call my own cab/ I can drop my own change in the jukebox/ I can dance all by myself.” - Buy My Own Drinks - Hannah Mulholland-Jennifer Wayne-Naomi Cooke-Hillary Lindsay-Josh Kear.
“But I feel like we have a modern take on it lyrically.”
As strong women unafraid to take risks in achieving goals, empowerment is a recurring theme for Runaway June - not just female empowerment.
“We want to be inclusive,” says Naomi.
“We want to sing to everybody, so we steer away from being super negative to either gender.”
“We don't do man-bashing songs,” Jennifer clarified.
Buy My Own Drinks - one of five album songs penned by the trio - debuts on Nu Country TV on September 20.
“I grew up in choirs singing low harmony, Jen naturally sings high harmony and Naomi has this perfect mid-range voice,” Hannah explained.
“If we all switched positions, it wouldn't be the same.”
“You won't hear a lot of synthetic anything in our music,” Naomi says.
“But we're modern women living in a modern world, so what we say and what we want to write and sound like is modern, without even trying.”
Wayne added “everything we write is what we know, it's from the heart.”
They honed their skills from humble beginnings.
“We played as solo artists, and so we'd end up at places like the Tootsies Orchid Lounge at the Nashville airport, and then we did shows in radio conference rooms and at coffee shops,” Jennifer revealed.
“We have played for a lot of empty seats. And that helps to know we're not the only ones who are doing it. All those gigs have taught us how to navigate whatever might go wrong.”
GOOD, BAD AND UGLY
“You bring me coffee when I wake up too late/ last night's makeup still painted on my pillowcase/ I'm rushing and scrambling just to find my damn keys/ you say, "good God, girl, you're the prettiest mess I've ever seen, "/ good, bad and ugly/ yeah, you still want me baby/ you're the one that's crazy/ for sticking with me baby/ I'm a saint, I'm a sinner, I'm a train wreck/ just about as flawed as they get/ but you still love me.” - Good, Bad And Ugly - Hannah Mulholland-Jennifer Wayne-Naomi Cooke- Jacob Attwooll- Samuel Roman.
Most songs are joyous tunes from entrée Head Over Heels that segues into Buy My Own Drinks and optimism fuelled We Were Rich.
Mulholland says touring with Carrie Underwood enriched their growth as a band.
“She's been on to us since we released Lipstick in 2016,” Hanna revealed.
“She has been in our corner for years. So when we heard she was taking us out on the road, that was the ultimate vote of confidence for us, especially from her.”
The 360-degree nature of Carrie's stage meant they spread out and speak to a room surrounding them, as opposed to a crowd directly in front.
That's not an easy task without benefit of the screens and stage elevations the headliner uses.
“It gave us the opportunity to rehearse with our band a bunch and work up some new songs," Hannah explained.
"So, I feel like it was a huge growth spurt."
Touring tutelage with Underwood and Maddie & Tae energised the trio.
So, what did they learn?
“Everything, what is she not good at,” they explained.
“We're just like teach us your tricks. She shows up to everything. At that stage in your career, she doesn't need to be at everything. But she is an overachiever in every way in the best way. She never half asses anything. Even at sound check, it's like it's a real show. It's so impressive.”
The trio's maturity is reflected in Good, Bad & Ugly, Trouble With This Town and I Know The Way that reflect highs and lows of romance.
“We've been together four years now, but this is our debut album,” said Mulholland.
“We really harmonised as a band through songwriting and being out on the road. So, I feel like through that journey we were able to learn more about ourselves as people - as women, as performers, as artists - and figure out what we wanted to say, all of that is reflected in these songs.”
Equally accessible are hedonistic Got Me Where I Want You , booze laced I Am Too and revamped Dwight Yoakam hit Fast As You.
“Our songs are deeply country,” Cooke explained.
“We aimed to make a compelling record that displays our character, personality and where our heart is. That's why Blue Roses is the title track. It's a deeply personal song we wrote several years ago, but have kept for something special”
Runaway June's joyous journey, ignited by vibrant video clips, expanded on the tour - "a growth spurt we'll have from just being around Carrie and seeing how she operates."
PARK BENCH LOVE AND MARRIAGE
“See that park bench and that streetlight/ had our first kiss and our first fight/ and through that doorway there's a café/ every Sunday, yeah, that was our place.” - Trouble With This Town - Jennifer Wayne-Naomi Cooke-Chris DeStefano-Liz Rose.
Mulholland is the only married member of Runaway June but all three want to have families.
Hannah and long-time boyfriend Ian Jay eloped in Philo's Anderson Valley among the redwoods for their wedding on October 6, 2018.
“A rainy morning hike, ceremony in the forest with our family playing live music, followed by an amazing local vegan dinner prepared especially for us and a homemade wedding cake,” she recalled at the time.
“Nine guests, two days, and one epic celebration.”
Family life on the road has motivated the trio.
“I think it's really cool for us to see that Carrie has a family that's really successful and she's got a great marriage and awesome husband and kids and she's doing this life and that one," Cooke added.
"That's important for us to see because all of us want families eventually and there's moments where it's like, I don't think that's possible.' And watching her on the road with Mike and their boys, it shows us that it's possible. We wonder, ‘can we have real relationships, can we have kids?' She has shown us it's doable. That's been so great for all of us to see. Nothing has ever been handed to Carrie Underwood.”
What about lessons learned from Maddie & Tae ?
“All three of us have become like sisters and best friends,” Jennifer said.
“But with them, they have truly been best friends forever, and they're truly enjoying what they're doing on stage. They really are like that in real life. And just like Carrie, they have an incredible work ethic. Despite their ups and downs in their career, they've stayed true to who they are musically. It's admirable. And it shows in their new music: it's progressive and it's grown up. That takes a lot of guts.”
Underwood designs her shows to feature all girl medleys.
“We go out back out to the stage after our set and Maddie & Tae's set, and we all sing a medley that's about ten songs long,” Wayne explained.
Those songs include Stand by Your Man, Walking After Midnight, Coal Miner's Daughter, 9 to 5, Rockin' with the Rhythm of the Rain, She's in Love with the Boy, Independence Day, Wild One, Why Haven't I Heard from You, and Man, I Feel Like a Woman !”
“On the Carrie tour we don't have any kind of official pre-show ceremony,” Cooke said.
“But we all do this pow-wow together with our hands in the centre of the circle, with our band, our crew, and anyone and everyone who might be walking by. Like Carrie and Maddie and Tae . Everyone. Each person has a chance to shout out something on the count of three. Sometimes we'll shout out the number of the show, and hearing those numbers add up feels amazing.”
The trio is proud to be on an all-female tour but hope it's not an oddity.
"It was never promoted as an all-female tour. It was never this kind of novelty thing. Because it shouldn't be a novelty," Hannah explained.
"Hopefully that is going to start to pave the way so that other people feel comfortable doing it. Hopefully that just continues to spread, where we get to be on the tours that make the most sense, with the people that we want to be on tour with."
They elaborated on Carrie's strategy of hosting all three female artists.
“It has been such a vote of confidence. Carrie said: ‘I didn't really think about it like that, I just thought these are the acts that will put on a kick-ass show.” Cooke explained.
“That's the point. These are the artists she thought were ready for this. And it shows because we're playing to almost the full arena. But that's just a huge testament to Carrie. Her fans know she's gonna put on an amazing show from start to finish.”