After having a Top 10 hit, it could have been expected that Maren Morris would take this moment to make the full transition into mainstream pop star. Her voice was already in everyone’s head as her collaboration with Zedd, “The Middle,” has basically been inescapable between incessant radio play and Target commercials.
But on her sophomore album, Morris doesn’t make her Taylor Swift transition into pop. Granted, she started farther into the country-pop spectrum than Swift did.
Swift’s eponymous debut album was full on country charm, brimming with banjo and pedal steel. Morris’ major label debut, “Hero,” spoke the country lingo but drew on influences from pop and R&B to really make it shine. Morris was already flirting the line Swift towed on “Red.”
“Hero” took the shine of bro-country’s pop sensibilities and reflected them off the traditions of country music to fill out the soul. And it worked so well, earning Morris five CMA Award nominations in 2016, four Grammy nominations in 2017 and one in 2018, and one win each.
On her sophomore body of work, “Girl,” Morris reassures the country crowd that she is here to stay. But, she continues to flirt with genres that are dominating culture.
On “Girl,” her melting pot has gotten bigger and bolder. The production is amplified and more sure of itself, much like the singer herself. The tracklist is split between themes of empowering womanhood and her recent marriage.
The album is front-loaded with four very different but equally heavy hitters. The title track showcases a sense of liberation Morris has found since breaking it big. It is the most anthemic moment on the album.
“The Feels” has the fun energy that Morris bottled on “80s Mercedes.” You can feel the pure joy radiate off this one. It is sure to be a strong performer this summer.
“All My Favorite People,” which features Brothers Osborne, leans hard into country tropes but bolsters itself into a true hoedown barn burner. It is the strongest true country moment on the record.
“A Song for Everything” is a meta ode to the wide array of songs we have at our disposal to articulate exactly how we feel in any moment. It could easily become a cringe-worthy cheesefest, but Morris’ sincere vocal delivery keeps the track real.
In reality, after these four, the album hits the sophomore slump and gets stuck in filler territory. Honestly, just two or three tracks could have been left off, and the project would seem stronger as a whole.
The problem tracks really falter because of the universality in their lyrics. Songs like “Good Woman” and “Gold Love” rely on conventional metaphors that we have heard over and over.
While on “Hero” Morris establishes her individuality, “Girl” loses this specificity. The opening lyric of “Flavor” proclaims that she “ain’t gonna water down my words,” but that is exactly what she does here.
Two standouts from the latter chunk of the album are “RSVP” and “The Bones.”
“RSVP” has a similar flirtatiousness to “The Feels,” but it brings in the sensuality of R&B to make a decidedly different statement.
“The Bones” is arguably the best song on the whole album. It is a ballad to her husband and the strength of their relationship based around the metaphor of the structural “bones” of a house. The message is that their relationship and love can make it through any storm because “the house don’t fall when the bones are good.”
It is soulful and features an impressive vocal performance. She showcases her subtle runs in the verse and belted adlibs in the final chorus. The combination of the talented songwriting and vocal power behind this track really make it the album’s standout.
While “Girl” stumbles a bit in the middle, it is a strong country album from a star who could have taken this opportunity to abandon the genre. Morris chose to stay connected to her roots and is likely to continue the trajectory of a solid career for it.
Maren Morris will play in Philadelphia April 26 at The Fillmore.