Maren Morris

Columbia Nashville, 2016


REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Some music is meant to be heard in a quiet room with headphones on, the better to analyze the lyrics and hear every musical subtlety. Some music works better as the background noise at a party, accompaniment to a night of memory making. And some music simply demands that you listen to it while speeding down the highway with the windows rolled down.

Hero, the debut effort from Maren Morris, belongs firmly in that final category. Country at heart but with a pop sensibility and a refusal to ever get too heavy, the album calls listeners to open roads and sunny days even as it establishes Morris as a force to be reckoned with in Nashville.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Half of the album seems designed to reel in casual listeners with feel-good blue-sky pop-country. Opening tracks “Sugar” and “Rich” fit neatly in that category so beloved by radio stations, with catchy melodies and enough attitude to charm everyone without repelling anyone. Lead single “My Church” establishes Morris’s country bona fides with a paeon to the genre, including a tribute to the stars before her (“When Hank brings the sermon / and Cash leads the choir / it gets my cold cold heart burning / hotter than a ring of fire”). And “80s Mercedes,” the track most likely to be stuck in your head hours after finishing the album, all but demands to be played on a summer day on FM radio.

But while those songs propelled Morris to mainstream fame, it the remainder of the album, where she dares to wade out of the shallow end of Nashville’s musical spectrum, that listeners may find more interesting. “How It’s Done” is the kind of smoky love song that is the bread and butter of R&B, and Morris happily merges her twang with Motown’s style for a song that just works, even if you’re not sure why. “Just Another Thing” is a bouncy pop song that doesn’t seem to belong on a country album but that Morris manages to sell. And album closer “Once” sees Morris going all out, both at the mic and the board, with a song that lyrically looks backwards even as its ambition demands that the listener think about what she’ll do next.

Whether she’s stretching the genre or comfortably sliding into it, Morris is a breezy entertainer throughout the album, calling upon familiar images without ever leaning too hard on the trucks-beer-small towns country clichés. While future projects pushed her into more mature subjects and further out of the confines of her genre, Hero is a canny introduction meant strictly to make you smile. Both the radio-friendly hits and the riskier B-sides make you want to crank up the volume and hit the road – after all, Hero seems to say, isn’t music supposed to be fun?

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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