PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Nelson/Courtesy of Sony Music Nashville
The track, The Bones, is available via:
22nd February, 2019
The album, Girl, is released on 8th March, 2019. Pre-order here
THE advantage of doing a review of someone...
PHOTO CREDIT: @papermagazine
who is pretty well-known is that you have a lot of information to go off of! I will speak about Maren Morris and her music in a bit but, before then, I wanted to address Country music and why we do not hear it so much here; why there is a gender imbalance in the U.S. and how radio is to blame; why Morris is someone who is capable of bringing Country to the masses; how we are all a bit reserved about music and not as adventurous as we should be; bringing a bit more kick and excitement into music – I will end by looking at Maren Morris and how she will develop this year. Many of us tend to avoid Country music because we feel it is quite cheesy and does not hold a lot of weight. Maybe we have the impression of artists like Billy Ray Cyrus and those sorts of acts. Even if you do not like performers such as Dolly Parton, you have to admit that she – and peers like Tammy Wynette – transformed the scene and have made a huge mark. Modern artists are not quite as limited as Country stars of the past. I do not overly-love what came before and feel there was a tendency towards the bleeding heart and twanging guitars. I like Country music that is more energised and optimistic and, as such, you have to tread carefully through the archives. There are, I admit, a lot of cheesy older artists who one might be wise to avoid but today there is a new breed adding something new to Country. I have a lot of respect for the Country legends but I think the genre is more accessible today. Artists such as Maren Morris are splicing together Pop and Country and creating these polished and memorable songs. Look at success stories like Kacey Musgraves – who recently scored big at the Grammys – and we cannot deny Country music today is a different affair. Despite the fact it is popular in the U.S., we do not have the same scene here.
There are Country acts in the U.K. but nothing like you get in America. Whereas U.S. Country fuses genres and is quite ambitious, I tend to find we are more limited here and our brand is not as potent. We think of Country and Nashville, Tennessee comes to mind. It is the Mecca of Country and provides so much history and inspiration. The city is teeming with great venues, players and beautiful visions and, as such, artists feel completely relaxed and influenced there. This supportive network of Country artists means the genre is growing and attracting new musicians by the day. The fact Country is more varied and accessible now is enticing some from Pop and, if anything, showing how much stronger Country is. I feel artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris are able to create sharper, more nuanced songs that do not rely on processed vocals, the same beats and tired lyrical suggestions. In this country, we are inspired by Country for sure but I could not really name many successful Country artists. We do not have anywhere like Nashville here and it seems rather tragic in comparison. I could not even think what our equivalent would be and we do not have the same venues and labels that can support artists. Our Country scene is more underground and, whilst it has some interesting acts, is nothing like the U.S. I do wonder why and I think we still have this misconception about the genre. Many have impressions of cowboys and line dancing; something really awful and a type of music that is reserved to true fans. Maybe we need to embrace U.S. sounds and encourage more of our new musicians to embrace Country. We do Pop music very well but Country is still pushed to the outskirts. Many claim we have a great Country culture here but I would disagree. I do think we have a long way and need to change opinions regarding the genre. Maren Morris and her peers are showing what can come from Country and how good it can really be.
Although there is some great Country music in the U.S., there is a big problem regarding radio and playing female artists. The problem is that many Country stations do not play female artists back to back as they feel listeners would rebel and complain. The explanation is that male artists are more appealing and popular with the listenership. There have been calls to change this policy and play more female artists on Country stations. Last year, Rolling Stone provided some alarming stats:
“In radio’s top 50 for the week of Oct. 1, as compiled by industry newsletter Country Aircheck, only six songs are from women. Were it not for Maren Morris’ slow-rising “Rich” finally edging up to No. 9, the top 10 would be devoid of female artists entirely. Elsewhere Carly Pearce comes in at No. 13, followed by Sugarland (17), Kelsea Ballerini (28), Danielle Bradbery (a duet with Thomas Rhett at No. 46) and a just-released Carrie Underwood single (47)”.
Morris is one of the artists making up for a shortfall - but consider how musicians such as Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood are succeeding and their tales are not being told. It is alarming seeing how ignorant Country stations are in the U.S. and why they constantly ignore female artists. There is no shortage of talent out there so one wonders why women are being overlooked. In the Rolling Stone article, more information came to light:
“RJ Curtis, longtime board member of Nashville’s Country Radio Broadcasters, counters, “It’s an easy thing to say, that women only want to hear hot-looking guys and not other women, but research people I’ve talked to say there’s no data that supports that.” He agrees that most stations won’t play two female artists in a row, but in his view, the reason is that they’re so scarce, programmers are forced to spread them around. “I know women would hate being referred to as inventory, but we don’t have enough female artist inventory coming down the pipeline, and I don’t think country radio is responsible for that,” Curtis says, defending radio against its bad rap in the ongoing controversy. He estimates that 20% to 25% of the adds at radio in a given week are women performers, “and if you go look at the artist rosters at country labels, it’s very proportionate.”
PHOTO CREDIT: @papermagazine
There is this vicious cycle where many labels are not signing women because they feel they will not get played. I feel like radio is the most influential source and is creating this issue. Many listeners prefer male artists and feel like females do not have much to say. Maybe this is born from an age-old sense of discrimination and narrowness. There have been some iconic Country female artists but the story is different today. There is talent to be found, for sure, but they are not being given a platform and a voice. The chart positions, as the article continues, is quite worrying:
But the percentage of women achieving half-decent chart positions is well below 20% — and Curtis faults some programmers for allowing records by female stars to stall out, like Ballerini’s underperforming “I Hate Love Songs,” which he was sure would be a smash. He thinks Morris also merits more play. “Maren had one of the biggest records of the year. Unfortunately, it was on Top 40 [‘The Middle,’ with Zedd and Grey]. Maren has had to struggle getting traction, and other formats are taking our artists. Now you have Kelsea making a [pop] record with the Chainsmokers, and I feel like country radio should take a look at that and go, wait a minute”.
We do need to change things because, as it stands, radio bosses and labels are stubborn and refusing to budge. There is an outcry and call for change but these calls are not being heeded at the moment. I wonder whether it is even possible to break the cycle and appeal to the bosses and D.J.s who continue to play men above women. Even the major success of artists like Maren Morris has not turned the tide. She, along with her great peers, is helping strike a conversation and raise more awareness. It seems the only way we will get change is if artists like Morris continue to grow and, before long, there will be no choice but to feature them more.
The article above mentioned Morris and how she is one of the most successful artists in Country. Her chart success and great music is striking a chord and bringing Country music to more people. In this interview Morris claimed she is not really a Pop star and is more Country. The fact is that Morris is fusing Pop with Country and maybe that is a reason why she is able to resonate and succeed. I am not suggesting the Country scene, at its purest, is for the die-hards and true fans but a lot of the more successful artists of the moment are uniting genres together. I do feel like Maren Morris has this determination and knowledge of the scene. She is savvy and smart; she has duetted with Alicia Keys and knows the business inside out. In fact, when Morris moved to Nashville and started writing songs for others, she got a note sent back – from a label or promoter – saying that the song was uniquely her. It was hard, maybe, for Morris to write for someone else because she had this singular talent and sense of who she was. Morris was listening to the radio and hearing male-focused songs talking about love in a very staid and cliché way. She was going to address love in its reality: concentrating on the ugly moments and the heartaches. Artists such as Taylor Swift moved from Country to mainstream Pop – one feels that might be a reaction to the radio stations not playing many Country women. Morris is comfortable playing Country and, whilst she does inject Pop into the brew, she looks up to her female peers and the icons of the past. She wants to change attitudes and the culture and I feel she can create a genuine revolution.
Think about the scene right now and there are so many interesting Country songs/albums around. I feel the women are producing more interesting and realistic music. Morris is one who likes to talk about love and relationships in a very personal and real way: many of her male peers are not being as honest or seem to following some rather dull rulebook. Not only is Morris’ determination and talent going to help make a difference but she knows the realities of the current scene. When speaking with Laura Snapes of The Guardian in 2017, Morris discussed the male-heavy ratio and how there is this bias:
“Country remains fairly dude-centric. In 2015, “bro country” reached its peak in a critical mass of male artists for whom a hot date entailed fishing and drinking “Bud” with a girl in tiny denim shorts, romancing her in the aisle of a convenience store, then adjourning to the back of his sweet truck. That summer, prominent radio consultant Keith Hill used a bizarre analogy when he advised stations to avoid playing female artists if they wanted to get ratings. Female artists were “just not the lettuce in our salad”, he said. “The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban… The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” Inevitably labelled saladgate, “it threw a brighter spotlight on the fact that there are far more limited spots for women than men on country radio playlists,” says leading country critic Jewly Hight. “There’s only room for one woman artist of each ‘type’.”
It’s a dispiriting revelation, but Morris sees a silver lining. “As a woman in country, you’re sort of this rare diamond,” she mocks. Her boyfriend is also a writer-artist. “He’s starting out, and I think it might be harder for guys now because there’s so many of them. You listen to the radio and there’s 10 dudes and they all sound the same, but when the girl comes on, you probably know who it is because it’s so distinct. There are guy artists that instantly get No 1s because someone heard it on the radio and thought it was a bigger artist because they sound so alike”.
Morris is definitely someone who is bringing excitement and personality into music. I feel Nashville and Country music allows more freedom and sense of expression. So much mainstream Pop is guided by labels and market demand. I do wonder how much flexibility artists have and what they can write about. Listen to the way Maren Morris writes and you know she is doing it for herself. She is a success already so can command a sense of independence and trust. I am excited because, unlike so many modern artists, there is a real pop and memorability to be found in her music. One can listen to a track like The Bones and remember it instantly. Every track has a different skin but they are sound distinctly like Maren Morris. I think Pop has a real problem right now regarding its appeal and longevity. How many mainstream Pop songs stand in the mind and sound as good as they did in years past? I do not think there is the sense of ambition and originality there once was and many people are embracing other genres. One of the big problems is a rather processed and downbeat feel to Pop. Morris does write about love in a very earnest way and takes her voice down low but there is this sense of naturalness. She never sound overly-processed and can always bring something positive and exciting to the fold! I do hope Country stations understand that artists like Maren Morris are not going anywhere and they represent the future. Maybe Morris will move more into Pop territory in years to come but I think, right now, she is providing a huge voice to female artists here. Nashville is in her soul and a tattoo she is unwilling to move. She embraces her surroundings and has a definite goal for the future. If you have not heard Morris – and are a bit wary about Country music – then I would encourage you to seek her out and chart her rise.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alec Kugler
Whether you spell the album Girl in upper-case or not (some do, some do not), there is no debating the sense of boldness and exclamation you can hear throughout. Morris has said how this album is lighter and less angry than her debut. Maybe she was working through transition and relationship pains then but, now, she is embracing something more hopeful. Despite there being a lot of excitement on her album, I wanted to focus on a song that starts off a bit calmer and more emotional. The heroine talks about being in the “home stretch” of a bad run and she can see the end. The song starts with a delicate fleck of electric guitar; a riparian trickle that beckons images of home, the calm scenery and something quite tender. Morris delivers her words with syncopation and takes breaths between each line. She portrays a sense of passion and emotion that makes the song sound instantly real and pure. The chorus is undeniably the work of a modern Country artist like Morris. Maybe not as electric as something from Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour; The Bones’ chorus has that hook, kick and instantly sense of memorability. If the bones are good then nothing else matters. Things can go wrong – including, as she sings, “the glass could shatter” – but it does not matter. There is this motif as the heart being a home. Morris sings about the paint peeling and glass breaking. So long as the ‘bones’ – maybe the structure or foundations – are strong then she can withstand anything. One gets the impression these images reflect hard times and outside forces – the paint peeling maybe acting as a metaphor for there being arguments and harder nights. Morris sings with such passion and skill that every word and line stands out and settles in the mind. Morris is an artist with her own spirit but she makes sure her lyrics are accessible and can be translated easily. The idea of using weather as a metaphor is nothing that new.
Look back through music’s past and we hear of storms acting like break-ups; the rain being tears and the winds blowing like changing fate and circumstance. Morris, here, knows she and her man can tackle any storm and the house will not topple over against the wind and the storm – so long as the bones are good. Morris is backed by simple beats and the main focus is her voice. Many artists crowd music with electronics and too much production. Here, we get something that is fairly polished but has a sense of space and flexibility. Morris is free to interpret and stretch her emotional range; take her voice where the song goes and change her dynamic when the mood calls for it. There is a sense of structure and stability about the song that makes it such an instant and familiar thing. The Bones is one of the tracks on Girl that might not get the attention it warrants but I felt it needed some focus. What I love about it is the sense of calm and control in Morris’ tones matched against lyrics that promulgate strong weather and a couple who have messed things up. This relationship has swayed and been threatened but they are still standing. Written with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz, Morris packs a lot of big imagery into the song. After the storms threatening their house, wolves have been at the door baying for blood. Whether a threat from other lovers or outside climates challenging this love, there has been this strength that has vanquished the mightiest of foes. There are moments of sensuality and we get some multi-tracked vocals; the chorus strikes and keeps coming back up – this indelible pleasure that is the mainstay and mandate of the song. Morris and her companion are tackling every negative and obstacle and are keen to survive. It is rare to see a love song that has that positive stride and happier façade. Not as bright as some other songs that will appear on Girl, The Bones is a more rich and mature track that does not wag its figure or call another girl out: instead, the anonymous pains and problems are tossed away and there is this steely focus from Morris. I am not sure who her sweetheart is – and whether she is talking about a sexual situation or a friendship – but you get the sense these two have seen a lot and faced some bad times. Whatever happens, so long as their heart and determination (the bones) are strong then nothing else can defeat them. This is a theme that runs through her album: determination and strength against challenging waters. Whether that is sexism or personal pressures, Morris is always open, honest and brave with her music. In a very mixed and divided time, this is just what we need to embrace!
Her album, Girl, is out on 8th March and it is the second album from the Texas-born star. She has progressed since her 2016 debut, Hero, and added new elements to her music. The title of her album, in a way, comes from the observation that a lot of Country songs have the word ‘girl’ in them. In many cases, it is a man talking about a woman and doing so in a very ordinary way. Morris noticed this and wanted to buck the trend. She is a girl – or woman – and wanted to write about girls. There is so much of this spirit and sense of progression in the album. She is currently touring right now and it is a busy time for Morris. When journalists were reviewing her debut, Hero, they noticed how canny and strong the songs were. Regardless of genre, there was fun and hooks to spare; a sense of boldness and an artist who had already found her feet. I have no doubt Girl will get the same sort of love and, judging songs like The Bones, it is going to be a spectacular thing. The record has fourteen tracks and there are some interesting titles in the fold – Gold Love and To Hell & Back stand out! The success of Morris and award s nods to artists like Kacey Musgraves should tell people Country music is really strong right now and women have a crucial role. Listen to the fusions and incredible songs from Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves and these are two women taking music by the scruff of the neck. There are many more women in Country right now – such as Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood – who are, in my opinion, stronger than their male peers. I feel the tide can turn but those who are responsible for making changes are holding back.
Radio stations in the U.S. are still favouring men and we do not really have a solid enough Country scene here to offer some support and needed backup. Maybe it will take longer for equality to occur and it is artists such as Maren Morris who will make this a reality. Ensure you get a copy of Girl when it is released soon as it is not what you’d expect from a typical Country album. Many of us still have cliché impressions and think Country is a rather corny genre. There is so much variation and brilliance to be found and, if you are not a big fan of mainstream Pop but like Pop in general, then new Country music is for you! In a recent interview with Billboard, she was asked about the new album and writing with Greg Kurstin (who has worked for the likes of Beck):
“This album is really about self-acceptance and partner acceptance. The first half of the album is very self-reflective, and it's more about me. Then the second half of the record transitions into me being the counterpart to somebody else. I didn’t have any love songs on Hero, so there are a lot more on this one, and I think that’s been a really beautiful side to being a touring musician: You never see the person, you miss them all the time, and he’s a musician as well, so we’re constantly writing with each other or about each other. A lot of these songs reflect that. He actually wrote a couple of songs on this album with me. I feel like I’ve grown up more in the years since I released that album. And this is the timestamp of that”.
As timestamps go, Girl is a pretty impressive one and I would not be surprised if the album was placed quite high in the albums of the year lists come December. We need to be more aware of Country music and the great female artists who are doing something genuinely exciting and different. Maren Morris is leading her peers and sending out a message to Country music stations: there is nowhere to hide; recognise us now! I hope these calls are heeded and, rather late, women in Country get the respect and attention...
PHOTO CREDIT: Austin Hargrave
THAT should have come years ago!
Follow Maren Morris
PHOTO CREDIT: @papermagazine