What do you know? Good things actually do come to those who wait!
Ever since I swooned over Midland’s “Burn Out,” I had gone nearly two months without handing out any score higher than a seven (while dropping scores as low as two in the meantime), and was beginning to wonder when I’d hear another song that really moved me. Similarly, it only took a measly eighteen years for Aaron Watson to become an overnight success, bull-rushing into the Top Ten with last year’s summer jam “Outta Style.” Now, Watson is back on the move with his follow-up single “Run Wild Horses,” and holy wow, I did not expect a track like this. The story may not be anything to write home about, but the incredible delivery (both by the singer and sound) infuses this track with a raw, visceral power that hits the listener like a freight train.
Without a doubt, the production is the biggest star here. The song opens by stealing Dwight Yoakam’s guitar from “Guitars, Cadillacs” for for what seems like a standard intro…and then the fiddle and acoustic guitar jump in to establish a dark, unsettled atmosphere with a real sense of danger to it. (I can’t say enough about how incredible the fiddle work is here—the ‘siren’ sounds serve to heighten the tension and unnerve the listener a bit.) The drums and electric guitars are then unleashed on the chorus, giving the song a strong, energetic groove with some serious funk to it. To be honest, everything feels perfectly executed to deliver an intense, powerful shot of passion, from the three stabs leading off the second chorus to the harmony choir on the verses. What amazes me the most, however, is how the production forgoes complementing what would have otherwise been a bland, generic sex jam, and instead extends it, providing a real sense of restrained-but-raw passion that is about to spill out of control. It’s an impressive piece that grabs the listener’s attention and leaves them begging for more when it’s over, and the producer acknowledges this with an incredible extended outro that maintains the song’s energy while using some slick guitar work to replace the lyrics. I was hoping to hear a song that moved me, but I didn’t expect to be knocked for a loop like this.
While I wouldn’t place Watson among the genre’s best vocalists, I would argue that it’s his limitations that make this performance feel so earnest. Normally I praise an artist’s delivery for feeling “easy” and “effortless,” but when the production brings heat this intense, you want the singer to make you feel like they’re doing the same, pushing themselves to the limit to maximize their power and intensity. In the hands of a powerful vocalist like, say, Brett Eldredge, this song’s flow would have been too smooth and made the listener wonder about the narrator’s true passion level. In contrast, you can really feel Watson straining as he tries (and succeeds) to find another gear on the choruses, as if the song is as dangerous to him as the activity it describes. That’s not to say Watson is out of his league here; actually, he sounds quite comfortable on the lower-ranged portions, and he nails every note he reaches for on the high side. He just does a great job conveying his effort and passion to the listener in a way that a more-powerful vocalist might not be able to do. All in all, it’s a great performance from a veteran performer who knows how to get his point across.
The lyrics turn out to be the weakest part of the song: At its core, this is just a garden-variety sex jam, one that is fraught with generic imagery and the occasionally-clumsy turn of phrase (“passion on your skin”? Really?). What the writing does, however, is feature just enough hooks to allow the singer and sound to grab hold and take the track to a higher level. Lines like “Unleash this love of mine” and “love don’t need these reins/no we can’t be bound” wouldn’t be anything special on their own, but they leave enough of an opening for the passion and intensity of the song’s other components to fill in the cracks and give the words a deeper meaning. Similarly, euphemisms like “go down like the setting sun” feel pretty milquetoast on their own, until they’re backed with some real bite by Watson and producer Marshall Altman. It’s probably not Watson’s best work as a songwriter, but it gets the job done, and what a job it is!
After all the uninspired, same-sounding songs I’ve heard over the last few months, both country music and I needed a song like “Run Wild Horses” to shake things up with some intense passion and raw “horsepower.” The lyrics laid the groundwork, the production provided to punch to get it off the ground, and Watson provided a strong, emotional delivery to let it take flight. Can it fly all the way to No. 1? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Rating: 9/10. Wow.