When Maren Morris first hit the airwaves in 2015, she did so with “My Church,” a gospel-sized salute to the redemptive power of singing along to Hank, Johnny and other country icons. She’s been diversifying that countrified image ever since. “80s Mercedes” traded the western wear of “My Church” for a palette of neon colors and acid-washed denim, while “Once” dressed itself up like a long-lost R&B ballad. Morris’ biggest hit to date, the international dance smash “The Middle,” even found her trying on electro-pop for size.
All of this genre-jumping sets the stage for her second LP, Girl. Co-written and co-produced by the singer, the album shows Morris making a bid for the sort of across-the-board pop stardom enjoyed by Pink, Katy Perry and Selena Gomez. A handful of guest appearances from Nashville-area contemporaries like Brothers Osborne offer small nods to her country origins, but Girl spends its time expanding Morris’ sound, with her super-sized voice — one of the strongest sets of pipes on the Top 40 these days — leading the charge.
Girl‘s themes are both topical and universal, with Morris singing about independence, self-love and the need to reach across the aisle to find common ground. Whether inspired by her marriage to singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd or just looking to tell a good story, Morris sings about love on half of the album’s songs. She never plays the lovesick wife waiting for her husband to come home, though — instead, she embodies the queen, the star, the self-empowered singer who chooses to share her glow with someone else.” Co-written with an all-star cast of collaborators, Girl is more grown-up than its name suggests, with Morris leaning toward topics of sex, self-worth and newlywed bliss.
“Girl” (Maren Morris/Sarah Aarons/Greg Kurstin)
“Man, this shit’s unflattering,” Morris sings, earning “parental advisory” status during her album’s first 30 seconds. An anthem of self-reliance and reassurance, Girl‘s title track finds Morris taking a long look in the mirror, ordering her reflection to cheer up and move forward. The vibe is far more pop than country — a trait that’s characteristic of the whole album, despite cameos by Brothers Osborne and Brandi Carlile — and the singing is delivered with slow-motion swagger, as though Morris tracked her vocals after finishing a bottle of wine.
“The Feels” (Morris/Jimmy Robbins/Laura Veltz)
One of several tracks co-written with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, this slaphappy salute to love is anchored by an airtight reggae groove worthy of “Umbrella”-era Rihanna.
“All My Favorite People” (Morris/Ryan Hurd/Mikey Reaves)
Brothers Osborne crash Morris’ pop party, roughening up Girl‘s smooth edges with noisy guitar heroics and a scene-stealing riff-off between John Osborne’s Telecaster and Maren’s voice. On paper, this is the album’s clearest concession to country radio, with a TGIF-ish narrative that’s familiar in a genre filled with liquored-up party anthems. Morris swaps out the requisite beer references for weed, though, and she smartly plays to the Osbornes’ strengths, letting TJ’s low voice rumble in the second verse and John’s fingers fly during the rock & roll outro.
“A Song for Everything” (Morris/Robbins/Veltz)
Every life needs a soundtrack. On this tribute to music itself, Morris waxes nostalgic about the high marks and heartbreaks that dot her past, every last one of them connected to some sort of song. “What’s your time machine?” she asks her audience during the song’s first verse, turning “A Song for Everything” into a conversation about art’s power to transport and transcend.
A duet with Brandi Carlile, “Common” brings together two vocal powerhouses from country music’s outermost orbit. There’s enough atmospheric synth and dance floor-worthy groove here to keep the club-goers moving, but “Common” is a singing showcase at heart, with Carlile’s deep vibrato going toe-to-toe with Morris’ melismatic runs.
“I’m cooking up my own flavor, even if it ain’t your style,” Morris announces, kicking all haters and skeptics out of the kitchen along the way. An R&B-influenced banger, “Flavor” finds its head chef promising to serve up the unexpected.
“Make Out With Me” (Morris/Julian Bunetta/John Ryan)
The title says it all. Here, Morris sings of drunk-dialing a jet-setting beau as his plane touches down, offering her place as a more enticing layover location. The accompaniment is lovely — a mix of airy piano chords, hand-clapped percussion and heavy-thudding drums, all draped around Morris’ raw pleas for a hookup.
“Gold Love” (Morris/Busbee)
Morris teams up with Busbee, her “80s Mercedes” co-writer and longtime producer, for a thumping, lushly-layered song about finding salvation in love. Her voice takes flight during every chorus, jumping skyward at the end of each phrase. A modern Motown song, influenced more by Mariah Carey than Marvin Gaye.
“Great Ones” (Morris/Hurd/Reaves)
Morris’ husband Ryan Hurd makes an appearance, singing harmonies on the couple’s second collaboration of the album. A hypnotic track about rare, enduring life, “Great Ones” mixes the guitar tones of latter-day U2 with drum loops, a killer keyboard riff and a larger-than-life chorus.
“RSVP” (Morris/Natalie Hemby/Jon Randall/Mark Trussell)
A sexed-up invitation to a two-person party, “RSVP” might’ve camped out at the summit of the R&B charts during the late 1990s, pitching its tent alongside songs by Brandy, TLC and Destiny’s Child. Like “Make Out With Me,” it’s an empowered song that finds Morris giving orders and initiating the steamy action, rather than submitting to a man’s desires.
“To Hell & Back” (Morris/Jessie Jo Dillon/Veltz)
“I wonder how you treasure what anyone would call a flaw,” Morris sings, honoring a partner’s willingness to love fully and freely. A mid-tempo ballad, “To Hell & Back” decorates itself with pedal steel and reverb-heavy guitar, leaning away from pop music and back toward the country canon for four swooning minutes.
“The Bones” (Morris/Robbins/Veltz)
Kickstarted by an electric guitar riff that nods to Moon Taxi’s “Two High,” this dance-pop track is driven forward by outsized drums, vocal acrobatics and more heartwarming lyrics about a sturdy, unbreakable relationship.
“Good Woman” (Morris/Kathleen Edwards/Ian Fitchuk)
One of the more unexpected co-writes on the album, “Good Woman” pairs Morris with Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning producer Ian Fitchuk and underground alt-country favorite Kathleen Edwards. The result is an understated ballad laced with Hollywood movie-score strings and a pledge of spousal support.
“Shade” (Morris/Hemby/Tyler Johnson)
Morris sings of finding a perfect match in the final track on Girl, nodding to Alicia Keys during the understated verses before transitioning into Southern rock power-ballad territory during the final guitar-driven moments.