Maren Morris' Hero: Country's Next Big Thing's Great Major Label Debut

On May 31, 2016

There’s a cliché about SXSW—beyond the one about music being everywhere—that it’s possible to see the “Next Big Thing” in X at any moment, that the stars of tomorrow are on display today, onstage at SXSW. So, I’m well aware what I’m about to say is a total cliché, but seeing Maren Morris at SXSW this year—even through the earmuffs I wore for a gimmick article—I have never been more sure that I was seeing someone who was right on the cusp of being HUGE. Her songs are smart and her voice packs a wallop. She played YouTube’s stage at SXSW like it was the arenas she’s touring this summer with Keith Urban. It’s still one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year.

So, consider me happy to report that Morris’ major label debut Hero delivers on all the gut feelings I had at SXSW. Hero could have been 11 tracks of filler following the unlikely chart success of “My Church”—it was originally released independently, but Columbia signed her when it started getting traction on satellite radio country—but it’s an album that reveals Morris as one of Nashville’s most deft young songwriters.

“My Church” is more than likely your entry point to Morris, and for good reason: it’s the best non-classic rock song about how riding in your car listening to music is a vital part of human existence. One of Morris’ hidden skills is the ability to slip in little lines that don’t reveal themselves until listen 10 or 20. “I just keep the wheels rolling, radio scrolling/ Until my sins wash away,” Morris sings as a rush before the chorus here, capturing the redemptive powers of good music, the act of searching for the good stuff, and driving aimlessly in a couple words.

It’s the small details that earmark Morris for something special. The “touch of a hand, like a movie scene” of “How It’s Done,” the “hard to get starlet” of “80’s Mercedes,” the paper airplane metaphor in “Second Wind”; those small moments make this feel like a bigger album than its 12 songs and 36 minutes.

The album hits its peak late with the bluesy and Bonnie Raitt-esque “I Wish I Was”—a tale of telling a lover that you wish you were the one for them, but your heart can’t sing their song—and the slowburn torch song closer of “Once,” which you can imagine Morris singing as the last song on tour with a guitar around her back and a mic drop at the end. “Once” is a song from the pit of a breakup, one that compares it to some kind of amorphous disaster you might not survive. It’s a stunning song, that builds and builds to its vocal showcase for Morris at the end. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to restart the album, and makes you wonder when the artist is going to do a followup, because this one album isn’t enough. It’s one of my favorites of the year. Maybe even the favorite.

Profile Picture of Andrew Winistorfer
Andrew Winistorfer

Andrew Winistorfer is Director of Music at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard and The Story of Willie Nelson. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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