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Maren Morris

Hero – 2016 (Sony Nashville)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Maren Morris

Maren Morris scored a hit out of the box with "My Church," the best of 11 songs on her major label full-length debut. The Texan infuses the song she wrote with uber producer busbee (he's worked with everyone from Keith Urban on "Ripcord" to 5 Seconds of Summer and Shakira and is one of three producers here including Morris) with mighty vocals powering a midtempo, soulful reading extolling the redemptive powers of playing music with the windows rolled down. A few lyrics from Morris and busbee could be about the best to be heard this year: "When Hank brings the sermon and Cash leads the choir/It gets my cold, cold heart burnin' hotter than a ring of fire." The song is to the point. Despite the lyrical reference, don't confuse Morris with the sounds of Cash or Williams.

Four of the songs, including "My Church," were on a 2015 EP (she released three other CDs earlier in her career), and Morris still doesn't forge that much of a musical identity. Like a lot of "country" releases these days, Morris relies on big beats, pop and rock. It's hard to call it a mash-up of country and other genres because there just isn't all that much that could be rightfully pegged as country. Maybe the softer "I Could Use a Love Song" qualifies despite its synthetic sounding drumbeat underneath. She goes a bit reggaeish on "Rich" and more so on "Drunk Girls Don't Cry," which has a lot of moody, programmed sounds. The beats, some of them of the hip hop variety, are ever present on "How It's Done." Morris veers blues light in a Bonnie Raitt vein, though she's not the vocalist that Raitt is, on "I Wish I Was."

In chasing her dreams, Morris went for songs that clearly radio ready, head nodding-along fare. On that score, Morris succeeded in spades. Roll down the windows. The music's good enough, but just don't expect Johnny and Hank to be jumping for joy.