Prior to the release of her debut single “My Church,” Maren Morris was perfectly content to live her life behind the scenes of the music industry as a songwriter in Nashville. “The Middle” singer made her entrance as a country music artist at a time when the landscape was particularly skewed unfavorably for women. Now, with the release of her sophomore album, Girl, she’s continuing the efforts to pull country back to an even playing field.
GIRL is representative of an artist taking their time to curate a body of work that authentically depicts who they are as an artist. The album opens with the title track, a powerful anthem that showcases Morris’ vocals and displays her chops as a Nashville songwriter. Written as a letter to herself, the message transcends beyond the addressee. It’s an empowering song about recognizing when you’re doing the best you can and that’s all anyone can really ask.
One of the only tracks that is purely country is “All My Favorite People” featuring Brothers Osbourne. Underneath the twang, Morris doesn’t shy away from her political leanings by including direct references to recreational marijuana usage and the lyric “we love who we love.” Though the lyrics might further deter her from getting country radio play, they also highlight Morris’ dedication to honest storytelling in her music.
Similar to Morris’ debut single “My Church,” the track “A Song For Everything” exemplifies the ultimate relationship that music fans have with all of their favorite songs. One of Morris’ best qualities as a songwriter is that she never loses sight of what the listener is experiencing when they hear the music. She is able to place herself in both positions to create songs that encapsulate how someone on the other side of the room might be feeling, which is a skill that all musicians desire to attain.
Another call to female empowerment is “Common” which features an appearance from fellow Grammy winner, Brandi Carlile. The song opens the dialogue for women to work together rather than fight over a single spot. It’s a powerful narrative and because of that, a memorable collaboration. The vocals from either women never overpower each other and fit together seamlessly on this track.
“Flavor” is a sassy but contrived declaration of originality. Although the verses are not particularly interesting lyric-wise, the bridge pulls through with “shut up and sing, oh hell no I won’t,” acknowledging the backlash musicians (in this case, a direct reference to the Dixie Chicks) often face when they speak out about issues beyond what they’re “qualified” to speak about.
Two tracks stand out as the most sensual on the album, “Make Out With Me” and “RSVP,” with the prior recorded as a voicemail to a long-distance lover. While “Make Out With Me” is more on the cheeky side of the sexy spectrum, “RSVP” boasts Morris’ genre-blending ability as an R&B track.
“Gold Love” and “Great Ones” sound exactly what the lyrics in the sounds sound like; big, powerful love songs that encapsulate an all-consuming relationship. “Great Ones” is a powerful ballad that tells the story of a love that conquers all odds into something worthy of legend. “To Hell & Back,” another true love songs on the album, describes the experience of having someone love you without trying to fix you. It’s a mature take on the trope that love is supposed to somehow fix all of our problems.
Most of the love songs are actually the strongest on the album, however, the closing chapter, “Shade,” is unfortunately one of the weakest. The lyrics play with imagery of light and color but ultimate fall flat against the rest of the tracks.
Girl is a powerful body of work that will definitely stand out on end of the year wrap up lists. When her collaboration with Zedd came out last year, many fans were unsure of what direction Morris would take her new music. While Morris experiments with various genres throughout the record, her vocals sound right at home with all of them. Some of the lyrics come off as a little cliche but for every bit of cheesiness, her authenticity as a writer shines through. However, that only verifies Morris’ position as an artist unafraid to blaze her own trail.