Earlier this summer, on the very same day Maren Morris tied with Chris Stapleton and Eric Church for the most CMA nominations of 2016, the Texas native spent the evening checking another career milestone off her list: sharing a stage with R&B songstress and 15-time Grammy winner Alicia Keys for an episode of the genre-blending CMT Crossroads series.
Morris, who went on to win the CMA for New Artist of the Year, and Keys share common ground as young women whose respective debut albums – Morris’ Hero; Keys’ Songs in A Minor – defied musical boundaries and signaled the arrival of a fresh new talent. The opportunity to have their own songs reinterpreted and infused with newfound energy via an artist they admire was yet another reason to celebrate that day.
“We are both up for any challenge,” Keys tells Rolling Stone Country. “It’s no small feat to quickly learn five new songs that aren’t your own. Maren does her style and I do my style and they blend so well together. So I think that has been cool, to really learn that we are both ‘go with the flow,’ easygoing and all about making it great.”
“All the songs I’ve been looking forward to singing live and working all of the parts out in rehearsals, it made me even more excited to get up there and do it,” adds Morris. “Songs like ‘If I Ain’t Got You,’ ‘No One,’ her new song ‘In Common,’ which is super cool and has this really fresh, almost Latin vibe to it. We are doing a really broken-down version of that song and it is going to be really cool.”
The writer of such Grammy-winning songs as “No One,” “Empire State of Mind” (with Jay Z) and “Fallin’,” Keys naturally bonded with the “My Church” singer-songwriter over their shared love of specific wordplay – and their disregard for the more music-business-created concept of specific genres.
“We’ve been talking about how it almost takes catchphrases … your favorite catchphrase and put it into a song. Like ‘Rich’ does that really well. Another one of my favorites is ”80s Mercedes.’ I just love the spunk in it and really she has so many great songs,” says Keys. “So it’s just been really fun to jump in [to] each other’s world and it feels seamless too. It doesn’t feel like two worlds – it feels like one.”
“I kind of knew going in with this record [Hero] … I’m always going to be rooted in country but I feel like I’ve never listened to music that way, even as a kid growing up,” Morris says. “There are multiple genres, obviously, and it is easier for people to label it because it’s just comfortable for them. Honestly, I’ve never written music with those parameters and so [this Crossroads] is a physical representation of no barriers being put on creativity.”
“Artists never created that word ‘genre,'” adds Keys. “Artists didn’t do that – that was a business play. So, for us as creative people, we listen to all kinds of music, we love all kinds of music and are inspired by all kinds of music.
“You don’t hear a note and think, ‘That’s a rock note and I like it because it’s a rock note,'” she continues. “You don’t care what note it is, you just want to feel it and feel great. So if we just keep looking at music from a place of love and creativity, that’s our job.”
CMT Crossroads premieres Friday, December 2nd, at 10:00 p.m. ET on CMT.
(Reporting by Ashley Eicher)