Honestly, country albums come and go. Some shine while others fade into the background. In 2016, there have been many country albums, but how many have truly stood out? The answer is very few. Texas-bred, Nashville-based country singer Maren Morris certainly isn’t one to fade into the background by any means. Simply put, the 26-year old can flat out sing. What makes her major label debut Hero stand out is the fact that while country’s the ‘big picture’ stylistically, she incorporates multiple styles throughout and successfully.
“Sugar” initiates Hero with an aggressiveness, fueled by Morris’ strong case of “like” for a guy. The opening lyric is unapologetic and straight to the point – “Boy I’ve been cooking up one hell of a crush.” “Sugar” is successful thanks to its brutal honesty, further exemplified when Morris asserts she’s “Tried the fake s**t but it ain’t the same / a girl just knows when it’s the real thing.”
“Rich” maintains Hero’s quick start, maintaining the punch established by “Sugar.” Morris also remains feisty, slipping a few select cuss words off her tongue. Can you do that in country music? Morris does. “Rich” is nearly equal to Morris’ praiseworthy ace-in-the-hole “My Church,” clearly the perfect introduction to Morris as an artist. Exceptionally written through and through, the chorus is definitely Morris’ most triumphant moment, with magnificent vocal harmonies and terrific production. “Can I get a hallelujah?” AMEN!
“I Could Use a Love Song” rolls right along without a hitch, a bit kinder and gentler than the rollicking opening trio. Morris continues to be filled with passion and fire, as she longs for love even though she’s been unsuccessful at it as of yet. “I could use a love song / that takes me back, just like that,” she sings on the fantastic chorus, continuing, “when it comes on / to a time when I wouldn’t roll my eyes / at a guy and a girl / who make it work in a world / that for me so far just seems so wrong.”
“80s Mercedes” masterfully blends 80s pop cues and country, something that probably should work but alas does. The chorus, as is the case throughout Hero, is perfect, not dissimilar to “My Church’s” rousing refrain. “Drunk Girls Don’t Cry” shifts stylistically, incorporating reggae and a dash of tropical-pop into the mix. All the while, Morris still retains her country sensibilities, never sounding like she’s not a country singer despite the ever-changing backdrops. Like “Sugar” and “Rich,” a few choice words continue to slip off Morris’ tongue.
“How It’s Done” once more transcends country, this time opting for urban-infused pop. That’s right – Morris takes on a soulful joint with rhythmic lines on the verses. It doesn’t dare knock off ‘champ’ “My Church,” but continues to be as consistent and intriguing as everything else. “Just Another Thing” is groovy with a sense of classicism, slated somewhere between classic pop, soul, and country. Despite the fact Morris proclaims him to be “just another thing I should be doing,” it would’ve been a shame had “Just Another Thing” missed the cut on Hero.
“I Wish I Was” fuses classic soul and old school country sensationally. Morris’ vocals purposefully carry some distortion, a thoughtful production touch. Speaking of the production, the use of organ and the distorted, edgy guitar further make “I Wish I Was” one of Hero’s most elite moments. Penultimate “Second Wind” returns Morris back to the current millennium as opposed to the past. Stirring, heart-wrenching ballad “Once” concludes Hero beautifully and solidifies the notion that Morris is a truly special artist that no one should sleep on.
Ultimately, Maren Morris nails it on Hero without question. In a year where many country albums have been released, Morris definitely delivers one of the year’s most intriguing if not the most intriguing without question. Morris has a spectacular instrument on her hands and coupled with a love for multiple styles and her feisty personality, only good things can happen! Again, “Can I get a hallelujah / can I get an amen?”
Favorites: “Sugar,” “Rich,” “My Church,” “I Could Use a Love Song” and “I Wish I Was”
Maren Morris • Hero • Columbia • Release Date: 6.3.16