HERO is the fourth album from 26 year-old Maren Morris – who released her first record when she was only 15 – and the Nashville based Texan is a bit of a rising star in the world of country-pop. As her first album released on a major label, Columbia Nashville has thrown their considerable resources behind Morris, with a glance over the co-writing credits quickly revealing those brought in to help out have worked with big names in country and pop music; Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, Reba McEntire, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, and Pink amongst others. By bringing in the writers behind these performers, Columbia has made it clear that they’re backing Morris to go all the way and have broad appeal.
Sonically HERO never strays too far from country-pop – at least for too long – which is good for maintaining a coherency throughout but will probably limit the albums appeal more than was intended, which is a shame as Morris has a strong and versatile voice that should be heard. Sugar opens HERO with a slinky, funky riff which is discarded for a brutally country-pop – yet somewhat catchy – chorus, making it a shame the lyrics are a little insipid and bubble-gum pop, and Rich continues with lyrical content that isn’t especially original, though the main riff is almost worth sticking around for – if only because The Joker by Steve Miller Band is a good song.
Lead single, My Church, which is proving to be Morris’ breakthrough on the charts, is very Christian-country-rock while managing to somewhat subvert expectations by being about listening to the greats on the radio while driving. I Could Use a Love Song is a mellow, introspective track which is pop enough, and country enough, to unite fans of both genres without conflict, all the while being delivered with a mature vocal style; easily the best track on the album. Slide-guitar undercuts the synth-pop of 80’s Mercedes, the soon to be released second single, reminding the listener that this is a song from Nashville, not LA. Just Another Thing features one of the few vocal missteps of the album, as Morris doesn’t quite pull off the sneered delivery required to liven up the clichéd lyrics.
Morris’ soulful delivery almost saves I Wish I Was but the song still ends up feeling uninspired. Second Wind, which was previously recorded and released by Kelly Clarkson, does more with less by shifting the focus to the vocal cadences while tamping down the electro-pop so that it isn’t overwhelming. Blues infused power ballad, Once, acts to showcase Morris’ vocals, which flirt with diva territory, as she belts it out. Overall Once is well composed, with each piece working well to support and boost the others. HERO is a good album, even if the lyrics prove lacking on occasion, and Morris’ voice calls out for more to be done with it. If Morris can find her feet outside of country based music hers will be a voice readily welcomed into the mainstream.