“Can I get a hallelujah, can I get an amen?” sings Texas-born, Nashville-dwelling Maren Morris on “My Church,” the lead single from her debut full-length, HERO. Though “sing,” however, might not be the most appropriate verbiage – she belts, more like it, in her dynamic range that can growl soulfully one moment and twangily howl the next. It’s an honest performance from an artist and writer who stands out for the singular point of view, sheer creativity and fearless approach to music she’s developed since she began performing and writing as a young child. Using the boldest colors from across many genres as her palate and country as her canvas, Morris’ stories are vivid paintings that can be gleefully fun, tearfully heartbreaking and a perfect balance of modern and timeless.
With HERO, her first LP for Sony Music Nashville, Morris starts with a bang, not a whimper: opening with a mysterious vamp full of swampy swagger, “Sugar” seamlessly blends the attitude of R&B with a catchy, countrified chorus. In other words, it’s Maren Morris in a perfect nutshell. “I don’t want to ease anyone into this record,” she says. “It’s not my personality. It feels so good to start the album out that way, and the music itself is not shy. But then it goes on to these really internal moments, too.” Indeed, she bounces from “Sugar” and the next track, the equally infectious, spitfire spirit of “Rich,” to the pristine glimmer of “I Could Use a Love Song” and later, the poignant balladry and awe-inspiring vocals of “Second Wind” and “Once.” It all results in one of the more inventive and engaging perspectives in country music to come along in years, conjuring a special, wildly different world where salvation comes through the FM dial and the stage is a place both to party and pray.