Outlaws are often solitary figures — the stranger come to town, the loner on a long night drive. Just as often, though, the outlaw is part of a larger group, whether it’s a gang, a band or a family. It’s that second kind, cast out of society but far from alone, that comes to life in Hether Fortune’s new single, “Sister.”
This is Fortune’s first official release as a solo artist since disbanding her Oakland-based goth-pop outfit Wax Idols last year. Musically, “Sister” is all about the controlled burn, the palm-muted scrape echoing beneath a rising fire of guitars that have so much texture, depth and movement that you might not even notice there’s no drummer stoking the blaze.
Fortune’s voice moves with a storyteller’s practiced pace as she sings about an older sister guiding her baby brother out of an expanse of “fields and mud soaked pickups.” She draws her notes out long when they’re “driving real fast down a dusty road in a stolen car,” then quickens as they fly “away from the white flight/white fright giddy-up cowboys and their cops.” There’s defiance, disquiet, and a long shot of hope in the three ways she sings the word that makes up the song’s refrain: “Away, away, away.”
The themes in “Sister” resonate with those I’ve recently encountered in The Sopranos and Red Dead Redemption 2, two other outlaw stories rooted in the idea that blood is thicker than water. Both are dominated by male characters whose fragile egos are just a nudge away from crumbling in a toxic rage — another quality shared by many outlaw stories. There’s a flash of that violence in “Sister,” but it’s free of all that noxious masculinity. This is a modern outlaw song, and even if the most striking lyric is a promise you can imagine coming from the mouth of Tony Soprano, in Hether Fortune’s voice, it’s a singular explosion: “I’m your sister/And I’ll kill any motherfucker if you need me to.”