(re Nashville Scene ballot, Top Ten Albums)
Maren Morris, Hero: First heard as a single, out of the album’s context (unbidden, uncomfortable insights, updates, reminders: notes to self & others), radio bait “My Church” seems like it’s county in ways perhaps not altogether consciously intended by those who put together the 100% Bona Fide Certified Yessireebob Country celebration up front: here we have the tradition of show biz congratulating itself via the artist-as-fan-surrogate, namechecking the safe, placeholder icons while (since it’s still now, not yet quite Springtime for Cheetos),plugging into a received, expertly performed carefully filtered version of “gospel”, waving hands in a slo-mo, laidback way, because this is a secular, love song-based sort of “Church”: a conceit
(in more ways than one), so let’s turn it up for a minute, yet not get too excited, folks. Right on cue, thank y’all.
As first read about, reviewer-bait and clickbait “80s Mercedes” seems like another auto- controversy: is she another naive young bling head, or seeking/preaching Empowerment?
But as actually heard, it’s convincing: Morris is seeking and savoring the quest, as much as the object of her desire and release—which might be out of her financial league, and that of many if not most other “90s bayyy-bies” she’s singing for, but hey life is a journey so ride on, dream on, you go girl— this good song, and even “My Church”, are best understood as brief necessary detours and pit stops, from and versus. the overall sense of hard-won, still struggling awareness of how relationships work and don’t work: how the sausage gets made, in both cases.
And the stress comes not just from realizing you’ve been had by a sweet-talker, the most adept one yet, and not even from realizing the self-deception, the self-sweet-talking, but also realizing you aren’t just warning and testifying for other young women—you’re also, still, lambasting the sweet talker, who may not even still be around, at least for the moment, but you’re still hooked. And you keep coming back, whether that person does or not. Not just in your mind, either—-there is this newfangled thang called a cellphone, with whatchacall a speed dial.
Aside from being hooked on That Person, “I could use a love song”, sung like someone might sigh, “I could use a drink”—”to take me back”, to before she knew. So yeah, she is a country fan, in the age of Beyoncé, for instance, who makes wised-up music, about having your foundations shaken, and figuring out how and when to slam the doors and move on. Beyoncé, with her own circuits of self-awareness, of being trained by tough “Daddy Lessons”, about how to deal with/be wary of men like Daddy: lessons based on his own stated sense of self-awareness. (And on this album, the influence is a given, the drama is never affected or too hectic: even “My Church” seems more like filling out a form for airplay than overselling.)
But, That Person aside, there is also another (not trying to be weird about gender, but sounds like she addresses that other as “girl” initially, later says “boy” more clearly), screwed over by another woman, thus (in part because observably not invulnerable) a suitable case for treatment: she explains, suggests, anyway, to this other person and herself “How It’s Done”: could start with, for instance clasping hands as if in a movie—-as also suggested sometimes in acting classes: instead of trying to relate to the character from your own experience, generating and then figuring out how to externalize a feeling—instead, you might go through the right motion, act as if you feel, and then you might indeed begin to feel it—so: encouraged, and
becoming aware of your improved acting, you feel and act more—and the process continues, as you become more of a pro, hallelujah.
Not so say that she doesn’t keep a sense of suspense going, right to the end–will it work this time, has she continued the spiral beyond her still-accruing powers and responsibilities and stakes, beyond her depth, her range, her potential, her luck? This is the question as she climbs the staircase to knock, one more time, in “Once”–the question she leaves us with (after and perhaps self-deluded/made overly hopeful by the joyful relief of “Second Wind”). Stay tuned, as the voice-over hosts of serials used to say (and what is country without history?—as astute student and compulsive seeker Morris would surely ask).