Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: Girl • Maren Morris

Conversations surrounding the mere existence of Maren Morris as a mainstream recording artist spark a turf war. Though billed as the alternative to the typical Nashville star, she split the divides between country, folk, and pop with Hero, a polished, hook-driven major label debut – and fans of each genre wanted either to call her their own or to discredit her from their camp entirely. Unlike crossover acts like Shania Twain and Kacey Musgraves, who first built audiences with records that were solidly country before they branched out, Morris was undefinable out of the gate. And with the release of her sophomore record, Girl, she further proves that she will never be boxed in.

Girl is an ambitious record, but Morris may have her eyes set on sights too broad to capture in one shot. Like its predecessor, Girl uses country only as its home base: Warm guitars and country-oriented songwriting form the record's foundation, but they’re textured with the smooth climaxes of pop and the clapping, snapping beats of contemporary rhythm and blues. On the summery earworm “The Feels” and the stomp-clap singalong “The Bones,” it’s a combination that feels appropriate for modern country. And when the title track forces an anthem out of a chorus that shouldn't be an arena-filler, it somehow works somewhat nicely.

It’s perhaps when Morris swerves hardest, however, that she is at her most interesting: Her Brandi Carlisle collaboration, “Common,” is a compelling adult contemporary cut, and although genuine flairs of emotion have been reduced and streamlined across the record, the tropical trap of “RSVP” allows her to slide into her most sensual vocal performance. That isn't to say that the record isn't otherwise enjoyable: To her credit, she really lets the wheels fall of the wagon only once on the record: “Make Out With Me,” a faux-vintage track with a title alone that paints an awful mental image. But as she tries to make a likable record for everyone, Morris forgets to settle on a singular vision.

Girl is out now under Columbia Records Nashville.

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