Maren Morris sure can write some catchy tunes. With only one or two exceptions, every moment of her major label debut from June is unimpeachably infectious. Is it country? Though I actively avoid that genre, I have heard enough of it over the past few months (“Pure adrenaline!”) to believe that Hero is a little poppier –– other than the slight twang in Morris’ voice, the tunes are laden with synthetic walls of sound that scream, “Taylor Swift! Katy Perry! Miley Cyrus!” But that’s all for the people at Billboard to decide. And they already have.
And, as of Tuesday, the 59th Annual Grammy Awards agrees. Hero is one of five nominees for best country album. The now-26-year-old Arlingtonian-now-Nashvillean is also nominated for best new artist, and Hero’s first single, “My Church,” a toe-tapper that I’m almost embarrassed to admit seems a little too clichéd for even me, the King of Clichés, is up for best country solo performance and best country song. Congrats already, Maren.
The ceremony is Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and if you, like me, won’t be invited, any ideas for a watching party? I know that’s sort of a DFW.com-y thing to do, but as the only publication whose assorted writers have been loving on Morris since the early aughts –– and we’re talking pre-website days here –– we feel like we’ve been validated in a way. So. Watching-party thoughts? Is the White Elephant still kickin’?
Very few albums in the history of mankind are as solid all the way through as Hero or as sonically ambiguous, in a good way. Not only is the pop force strong with this one, but aside from heavy metal and, y’know, zydeco and minimalism, I guess, there’s a little bit of everything here. Produced by veteran Nashville songwriter busbee (the afore-referenced Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line), the 11 tracks work cohesively yet also have their own intoxicating, distinguishing quirks. “Sugar” builds from a gritty acoustic riff to a huge chorus that, unlike the ones in most Top 40 numbers, doesn’t consist of only a few words shouted over and over. The slinking, old-timey, Leon Bridges-esque bluesy guitar on “Just Another Thing” is a subtle yet potent touch (thank you, Texas), and the seductive, life-affirming “How It’s Done” is built around a clicking-clacking, almost glitchwerks-style beat and, in the background, 8 bit-inspired twinkles. I guess I’ve been asleep, but if Hero is as popular as the Grammys and the mainstream media believe it is, then I might have to spend some time with my head out of my Fort Worth ass.
Oh, scatological cussing doesn’t bother Morris. The sweet-looking pixie indulges in colloquial profanity throughout the album. Gangsta rap, this is not. Well, now that I think about it …
“Boy, I’d be rich / head-to-toe Prada,” she sings on the jaunty “Rich,” “Benz in the driveway, yacht in the water / Vegas at the Mandarin, high-roller gambling / Me and Diddy drippin’ diamonds like Marilyn.”
I promise you, this doesn’t sound like rap at all when Morris sings it, but it is definitely rap-friendly, definitely burns with a sort of get-out-of-my-face-sucka! vibe.
But before our Grammys-watching party at a place to be determined, let’s get together at another place to be determined to watch Saturday Night Live this weekend. Homegirl Morris will be the musical guest. Her appearance comes about a year after another local, the aforementioned Leon Bridges, performed on SNL. A trend building?