4Runner returns after two decade absence

Country group preps first new album in 20 years

ACM-nominated country group 4Runner is back with new music, marking the band’s return to the music scene after a near two-decade absence. On Friday, March 31st, 4Runner will release Back Runnin’ via BFD/Audium Nashville.

To everything there is a season. We’ve heard it in an iconic song by the Byrds and read it in the Bible, but few people understand the significance of that statement better than the members of 4Runner. After a flurry of success in the ’90s fueled by harmony-laden hit singles such as “Cain’s Blood,” 4Runner’s momentum came to a halt when their label suddenly shuttered. Lead vocalist Craig Morris and compadres Billy Crittenden, Lee Hilliard and Jim Chapman each moved on to other productive careers, but always kept in touch.

“Now we’re back,” Morris says as 4Runner launches an exciting new chapter with Back Runnin’, an 11-song album featuring founding members Hilliard, Chapman and Morris as well as Morris’ son Sam, who completes the new line up. “Sam is certainly more talented than I was at that age,” Morris notes proudly. “He’s an amazing piano player, terrific songwriter and singer. He’s a great addition, plus that’s my boy!”

The lead single, “Ragged Angel,” heralds the veteran band’s return. Produced by Kent Wells and Tony Smith, the song was initially released in 2004, it has always felt like there was still more life in it and more people waiting to be touched. The reimagined track signals the newest chapter in 4Runner’s career and is the cornerstone of a vibrant collection steeped in the band’s signature harmonies while adding a fresh energy to the sound fans have long loved.

Morris credits Hilliard for initiating the current reunion. “The spark was Lee,” Morris shares. “We just kind of disappeared and nobody knew where we went back in the 90’s. Our label was shaky and we didn’t know it.”

4Runner’s debut album released in May 1995 and “Cain’s Blood” started attracting attention, buoyed by a music video the band filmed in Hawaii. Three additional singles— “A Heart with 4 Wheel Drive,” “Home Alone” and “Ripples”— helped the band build its fan base and the future looked bright as they completed their sophomore album. Then the label closed up shop and the project never released.

“We had to get back to making a living and raising our kids, who were very young at that time. We got to be dads full-time dads, and it was okay with us,” Morris says. “Jim has been at Brentwood Academy for well over 17 years as an art teacher and a swim coach. And he’s raised eight kids.”

Now as 4Runner relaunches, there’s a major difference in what they have to offer the world. Time has provided a wealth of experience and a depth of emotion that just isn’t available to a band of young musicians. “We’re back, and boy, we’ve got some stories to tell,” Morris says. “We’ve done a lot of living, so we know what we’re talking about. We talk about love and life and all those things. We’ve lived and so when we sing these songs, everybody has a lifetime of experience now.”

On Back Runnin’, the group delivers updated versions of fan favorites such as “Cain’s Blood” and “House at the End of the Road” as well as offering up powerful new songs that resonate with life experience such as the gospel flavored “Gritted Teeth,” a song penned by Morris as a tribute to his late mother’s strength and resiliency. Though it came from a deeply personal well of emotion, the song delivers a universal message for everyone in these troubled times. “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Morris says. “Hang in there. It’s going to get better. Just grit your teeth, smile and push on through. That’s what we need to do as individuals and as a country right now.”

4Runner explores the complexities of relationships on “Love Survivors,” an intriguing story song that follows four couples struggling to make their marriages survive. “That song has a little Muscle Shoals in it and I love the combination of rhythm and blues and country,” says Morris, noting that lyrically the song was inspired by a game night he and a former girlfriend used to share with other couples. “There may have been five couples around that table and I think only two survived.”

This new chance to take 4Runner’s music to the fans is something Morris and the other group members don’t take for granted. “I never expected to have another go at it, not that I didn’t want to, it’s just that I never expected to, so this comes as a bit of a surprise to all of us,” Morris admits. “It’s a dream come true. It’s like a dream you didn’t know you had, but when it starts happening you’re going, “Man, this IS a dream come true because I’m singing with guys I already love.”

In 1993, four young musicians were looking for “the next big project” in which to commit their time, energy and talents. Lee Hilliard, Jim Chapman, Craig Morris and Billy Crittenden were those men, and 4Runner was born. The band signed their record deal with Polydor in 1995. The first single from their debut album was “Cain’s Blood.” The success of the single and others brought them national tours, opening for Tim McGraw, Kenny Rogers, Faith Hill and a musical guest slot on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Four singles followed — “A Heart With “A Heart with 4 Wheel Drive,” “Home Alone,” “Ripples” and “That Was Him, This Is Now” — all Top 40 charting singles. The band was nominated for “Top New Vocal Group” at the 1996 Academy of Country Music Awards and twice nominated for “Top Vocal Group” at the TNN/Music City News Awards. The group later disbanded because there were kids to raise, bills to pay and a roller coaster of life to ride. One of those “kids to raise” was Morris’ son, Sam, the group’s new baritone singer. 4Runner is back and hope fans enjoy the ride!

1. Ragged Angel
2. Forrest County Line
3. Love Survivors
4. No One in the World (Till You)
5. House at the End of the Road
6. Hurricane
7. Getaway Car
8. Tidal Wave
9. Gritted Teeth
10. You Come to My Senses
11. Cain’s Blood

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com