If you want to hear my inaugural (aka test) of an audio version of this post, you can press play via my Facebook page – click here. If not, read on now.
At that pivotal stage of high school that is year 9, we were introduced to a new music teacher. I had a good vibe about her immediately. Warm, witty and could definitely actually sing. Basically all the qualities I still aspire to today.
My strategy with teachers I liked was ‘find a way to bond with them as quickly as possible’. So we did, over our mutual disdain for country music. I don’t even know if I had really heard much country music by the time I was 15. Still I definitely knew I didn’t like the twang of its thang.
Then one day, I had to break the news to my #bft (best friend teacher). There was a country song in the top 20 of the Australian charts. GASP! Not some made up category like ‘adult country contemporary clanger chart’ either. This was the actual normal popular music chart.
Sure, it was alarming but ultimately it only made our student-teacher-appropriate-friendship even stronger.
That song was Shania Twain’s (If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here!
Do you want to know something even crazier? This song ended up top 5 in Australia yet barely scraped the top 50 in Shania’s native Canada…’s Adult Contemporary Chart. I mean, that’s basically a made up chart right there and she still couldn’t manage more than #49.
Even more surprising, especially relative to the song’s success in my home land, was that it only reached #74 in the home-of-country-music US top 100. Australia, you sly little country music underdogs. I didn’t know you had it in you.
Just like that, a new all-conquering era of countrified pop music was born.
Shania went on to become both mainstream royalty and legit rocker of a leopard print hooded boob tube pant suit – complete with matching carry bag.
And yes, if you must know, I was totally on board the late 90s Twain train.
Shania’s crossover success was trailblazing and uncharted at the time. She paved the way for the likes of Faith Hill’s centrifugal motioning and Breathe. More significantly in today’s world, Shania ultimately became a blueprint (of sorts) for a young Taylor Swift to do her own brand of mainstream country.
Since Shania (and Faith, guilty but not sorry), my relationship with country music has been part-time at best.
I’ve loved everything the Dixie Chicks have ever done. From Wide Open Spaces to the deservedly Grammy winning middle-finger-disguised as an incredible album Taking the Long Way.
Australia’s Kasey Chambers has also been this fan’s favourite since adulthood. I’ve seen her on numerous occasions in concert and have wanted to be her best friend every single time. Only Sia matches her pretense-less relatable charm on stage.
Skewing outside the mainstream, Patty Griffin’s Rain was once a staple of my top 20 most played list on my iPod … probably next to Gaga’s Telephone. A diverse team is a successful team, that’s what they say at work. Go on, listen to this while you read the rest …
Unless you will let me count Keith Urban’s marriage to Nicole Kidman, then that’s pretty much where it ends.
However, getting my peripheral attention more recently is a new wave of artists bringing the word contemporary to country music. Miranda Lambert, for one. Kasey Musgraves too. Lots of folks outside of Nashville sing their praises. Yet I haven’t quite mustered up the motivation to press play.
That was all before I recently discovered Ms. Maren Morris. Or should I say, Best Solo Country Performance Grammy Winning Maren Morris. If I won a Grammy I would definitely change my name by deed poll to Best Rap/Sung Collaboration by a Solo Artist Grammy Winner Daniel Murphy.
I heard about Maren on what is now my favourite podcast of all time – the New York Times’ Popcast. In depth conversations about contemporary music is literally what I hope heaven will be like and I’m going to be really pissed off if it’s not.
Maren Morris released her album Hero last year. It was officially her fourth album, but her first on a major label. It reached the lofty heights of #5 on the US mainstream album chart.
So, who is Maren Morris? Some stats.
- 27 year old from Texas and now calling Nashville home
- Rejected by the Voice. And American Idol.
- One time songwriter for the likes of Tim McGraw, Kelly Clarkson and the Nashville soundtrack (which I totally trashed by boss for a watching a couple of years ago, and suddenly want to binge watch it all right now).
- Responsible for the best country music I have heard in a very long time.
- She’s an “90’s baby in (her) 80’s Mercedes” according to her song of the same name
Hero is the most addictive album I have heard in a long time.
It’s undeniably country with scattered moments of that mainstream sound that we all enjoyed so much with Shania and early Taylor. If I knew what bluegrass music sounded like, I think I would say there’s also a bluegrass vibe to this (TBC).
Sugar, this album’s opener, makes the world’s biggest cause of obesity the perfect metaphor for loved-up-crushing on her beau. It’s super sweet without being sickly.
My Church compares driving to your favourite tunes on the freeway to your very own Sunday gospel-like experience. Amen and hallelujah to that! I would definitely include her songs Rich and 80s Mercedes on the hymn sheet for this weekend’s drive, FYI.
Her ballads absolutely do not suck even one little bit. On the contrary, How It’s Done is like a Hollywood romance in song form. I Could Use a Love Song is classic country but in an early Taylor Swift kinda way.
Of all the consistently exceptional songs on Hero, the standout is Just Another Thing.
He is simply another example of all the things she does, but shouldn’t. The drinking, smoking, wasting Friday nights. That kinda jazz.
The song is much more than that. It knows things. Maren knows things. Insightful, self aware poignant things.
Nevermind that it sounds like the 2017 version of that Santana and Michelle Branch song we didn’t even know we needed (I wish I could be bothered looking the song up because I really loved it but it’s really late and the risk of launching into a two hour vacuum of time on YouTube is extreme).
I completely love this album so much. I can only give it two Uma Thurman-esque Cowgirl blues infused GIGANTIC two thumbs up.
Whatever your opinion on country music, give Maren a chance. She will win you over … and impress you much (uh uh uh uh).