2016 CD REVIEW
MAREN MORRIS – TEXAS CHURCH OF CHOICE
“When Hank brings the sermon/ and Cash leads the choir/ it gets my cold coal heart burning/ hotter than a ring of fire/ when this wonderful world gets heavy/ and I need to find my escape/ I just keep the wheels rolling, radio scrolling/ until my sins wash away.” - My Church - Maren Morris-Mike Busbee.
Texan troubadour Maren Morris has joined Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and the Dixie Chicks in a punchy posse of Lone Star state born songbirds blazing a lucrative trail to Nashville and way beyond.
At just 26 she has ensured healthy publishing royalties by co-writing all 11 songs on her highly accessible fourth album Hero that landed her an invaluable support role on the high profile Ripcord U.S. tour by expat Australasian star Keith Urban.
Hero, released on June 3 , debuted at #5 on the Billboard all genre Top 200 chart and #1 on country charts with 45,000 sales.
Her single My Church cracked Top 5 on the country charts - a handy sequel to her duet with Arizona born singing pilot Dierks Bentley on I'll Be The Moon that reached #22 on his 10th album Black.
Dierks, musical mentor to AFL stars Nick Riewoldt, Andrew Walker and David Ellingham on his 2102 tour with Australian of The Year Lee Kernaghan, and Urban are valuable supporters of Morris.
Morris, born in the Dallas suburb Arlington, shares writing partners Shane McAnally and Natalie Hemby with Musgraves and Lambert and enthusiasm for a female driven chart resurgence.
“Obviously, there's this lack of a female perspective that I would like to hear,” Morris revealed in a recent interview.
“It's not my aim to be this, like, saviour for females. I just want to make good music.”
Morris said she's excited to offer a different perspective not even in terms of gender, but thematically.
Maren began singing about cars and love long before she had a licence for either pursuit in her second decade as a performer.
Morris hit the Texas state music circuit after her parents bought her a guitar when she started singing at county fairs at 11 and played honky-tonks as a teenager.
Occasionally, she'd open for local heroes diverse as Pat Green and Bob Schneider.
She self-released three albums - now out of print - and garnered enough radio play to land three songs on the Texas Music Chart.
“I did the work and built a nice little fan base,” Morris explained.
“But I felt like I needed a new challenge. Sometimes you just realise you're ready for something else.”
When Maren won a 2012 music seminar award in New York she made Nashville connections - with help from Musgraves she moved to Music City a year later.
At the time, Morris felt a bit burned out as a performer, and was eager to hone her song-writing chops.
She signed a publishing deal within a year and soon had cuts on Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson albums.
But there was a problem.
As her writing skills sharpened publishers told her it would be difficult to shop her songs around town because they couldn't imagine anyone else but her singing those lyrics.
“At first that pissed me off, because I was like, ‘come on!' But then when you keep hearing ‘it should be you saying it,' it eventually sunk in,” Morris said.
“It was a light-bulb moment. It was like, ‘why the hell shouldn't it be me?'?”
So Maren cautiously boomeranged into performing.
On a writing trip to Los Angeles in early 2015, Morris - stinging after a bad breakup - took a drive to see the ocean.
A sense of peace washed over her as she listened to music in her car.
She thought “this is my version of church.”
Next day she had a writing session with producer Mike Busbee, who has written hits for Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Lady Antebellum , Rascal Flatts , Shakira and 5 Seconds of Summer .
Maren told him she had a title for a song: My Church.
“My initial thought was ‘Really? I think it's cool, but what would we do with it?'?” Busbee, now 40, recalled a year later.
But he had been eager to work with Morris since the first time he saw her sing at a Nashville writer's night where writers perform their own songs.
He threw out an idea: “can I get a Hallelujah/ can I get an Amen?”
The line ended up as the chorus, and they wrote the song in an hour.
“I recognised immediately that it was the most honest thing I've ever written,” says Morris.
“But the conventional wisdom in town is that if someone says it's a smash, you know it isn't. You can't speak those words without jinxing it. But I really did feel the earth shift. I obsessively listened to the song that evening and let my mind go places it hadn't been in a long time - primarily, singing it in front of a crowd. My Church gave me the courage to wander into that dreamland.”
MORRIS NO MINOR IN 80'S MERCEDES
“I'm a 90's baby in my 80's Mercedes/ I'm a 90's baby in my 80's Mercedes/ pop the top down like a summer dream/ she's my teenage time machine/ just keeps getting sweeter with age/ she's classic through any decade.” - 80s Mercedes - Maren Morris-Mike Busbee.
Previous low budget videos for Morris are still available on Texas radio web pages but she has no qualms about that sort of exposure.
Some videos are a little cringe-worthy but she says she's not about to get her lawyers to fire off a round of takedown notices.
“You won't find me trying to sweep under the rug anything about my years in Texas,” she says.
“It's pretty simple: if I hadn't done any of that, I wouldn't have any of this now.”
By the time Sony signed Morris in September, her songs had already been uploaded to Spotify and had about 2 million streams.
Busbee, who co-produced Morris's album, was gratified but not surprised by the strong reaction.
“It's the trifecta: To have a voice like that; to have that presence, the way she carries herself; and the way she writes songs, put that all together, you can't stop wanting to engage with that as a listener,” he said.
“Of course people are freaking out.”
Morris is humble about her newfound fame.
“There are days I feel like I'm being shot out of a cannon straight into chaos,” says Morris who adorned Bentley's Black album before she began her tour with Urban on June 2 in Kansas City.
“It's a little dizzying.”
“Boy, I'd be rich, head-to-toe Prada/ Benz in the driveway, yacht in the water/ Vegas at the Mandarin, high-roller gambling/ me and Diddy dripping diamonds like Marilyn.” - Rich - Maren Morris-Jessie Jo Dillon-Laura Veltz.
Morris indulges in self-deprecatory satire in her song Rich and spiritual renewal in power anthem Second Wind.
“The whole goal with this record was to be honest with myself because this is my first impression,” she says.
“This is my first hello to the world. I feel like I stretched every boundary that I have creatively. You can't put this record in a box. I don't feel like anyone can put me into one.”
Although Hero boasts songs about relationships - the mournful I Wish I Was and positive paean I Could Use a Love Song it covers a wide range of topics.
“I love the love songs, but sometimes it's OK to just be young and talk about something other than getting married or falling in love,” Morris said.
“There are so many fun things that you live that you can write about and people of all ages can connect to.”
They include Drunk Girls Don't Cry - advice to friends who dates losers.
She's sweet on latent love in the sensual Sugar and takes the reins in a relationship in R & B laced How It's Done and gospel flavoured finale Once.
So why did Morris leave Arlington for Nashville?
“I always had my sights set on Nashville because I grew up loving country music,” Morrie confessed.
“It's just true. The best songwriters live in this town. The best part is the people. As far as an emotional support system, I felt like I was really lucky that I fell into such a great group of friends when I got here. To this day, it's like a family and that's so important to have when you're traveling so much. You never get to sleep in your own bed. I feel like having a home base like the one I have here in Nashville is so essential.”
Morris expanded on her dreams in her album liner notes.
“The ten-year-old me couldn't wait for this to happen,” the 26-year-old Texan wrote.
“If I had known back then it would take 16 years for Hero to come to fruition, I probably would've gone back to playing with Barbies. Thank God I had people to support and encourage me to no end from the very beginning.”