Review Summary: Maren Morris saves country by being more than country.
Maren Morris took the mainstream country scene by storm not even five months again, when her major label debut single "My Church" impacted country radio, and when it did, one thing was immediately imminent; this was something entirely different, especially in comparison to the feel good weekend anthems that dominate mainstream airwaves. Maren Morris was shedding light on a fresh, unique brand of country, and doing so by being so much more than country. With well thought out and well executed overtones of pop, R&B and southern rock, Maren Morris' debut album Hero
is easily one of the best country albums of the 2010s decade thus far.
To call this album one of the best debuts across all genres in recent memory is not the least bit arguable. Maren Morris has reenergized country music by refusing to do what modern country juggernauts do in spades; pander to stereotypical narratives, underutilize the instrumentals and downright hijack a pop/hip-hop intonation with the intention of being relevant and popular. Maren Morris is here to grab your attention and keep it, but she isn't here to let you dictate her narrative. This is a creation all her own (she co-penned every song on the album) and she makes the music she wants to make.
Lead off single "My Church" is the best song on Hero
by far. Considered by Taste of Country's
Billy Dukes as a "mix of Amy Winehouse, Little Big Town and pulp fiction", the track is, in the simplest of terms, new. It's unlike anything that was playing on country radio when Morris released it this past January. Using pop and southern rock overtones, Morris puts forth a great vocal performance. The Dallas native has a voice perfectly suited for the country pop shown before the listener's ears, and the same truism takes precedence on opening tracks "Sugar" and "Rich." Conjuring up a take no prisoners lyrical approach on the album's opening third, Morris' presence behind the microphone is simply a hand in glove fit times a hundred.
"I Could Use a Love Song" is simply elegant. Morris is incredible at executing this mid-tempo ballad, and the production value is almost equally a highlight. What's more is Morris doesn't allow any kind of depressed or downtrodden emotion to be conjured, nor is there any dissimulation of emotion here either. The track is virtually tied with "My Church" as Morris' best vocal performance on Hero
. "80s Mercedes", which will impact the airwaves on June 27th, has a much more pop-oriented feel to it, but it works; Morris runs the gamut all throughout this record, and with up-tempo tracks like this at her disposal, the diversity of her composition stands virtually unparalleled and stands as a pedestal only few could attain and perform as well as Morris does.
"Drunk Girls Don't Cry is a quintessential example of how Morris simply refuses to pander to the commonplace conventions that plague the genre she is undoubtedly saving with this record. Lyrically, Morris shows a striking amount of empathy for the listener (in this case, a girl fresh off a break up), yet urges the listener to hold themselves accountable. A great combination, Morris has penned lyrics that can certainly be relatable and resonant, but will never let the listener off the hook. This boasts as yet another reason why Hero
is so new and unique; Morris is helping the genre evolve by working like the ultimate outsider.
Morris may not do anything outside of penning lyrics, holding the mic and holding down the co-producer's chair, but she assembled great personnel for the instrumenals and they perform just as strongly; electric guitarists Hayley McLean and John Osborne are exemplary in putting forth the souther/folk rock overtone that a lot of this album carries, Fred Eltringham's performance with the drumsticks enhances the upbeat rhythm of tracks like "My Church" and "How it's Done", which sees a graceful Morris behind the mic and Ian Fitchuk provides a strong performance with the piano keys.
"Just Another Thing" plays like a track armed and ready for a crusade on the Top 40, but the track, like the rest of the album, does so without "selling out"; Morris pours originality all over this record, and even the poppiest moments are unique and wouldn't feel out of place on any radio station. "I Wish I Was" uses very similar riffage to the track that came before it, but the song is still an enjoyable listen. In summation, Maren Morris has put forth what is not only one of the best country albums this year, but one of the best country albums of the 2010s decade so far; and she does so by avoiding typical conventions of mainstream country music; Morris had her horizons broadened long before she rose to mainstream prominence, and she deserves every bit of it. Country fans, enjoy. Country detractors, listen up and listen well. You are looking at 2016's first true album of the year contender, and aforementioned, Morris deserves every bit of credit that will undeniably come her way as her career further takes off.