Humble Quest LP
It’s funny how, as good as each of the eleven songs are on Maren Morris’ Humble Quest are, trying to pin down their appeal will probably take listeners a minute. For example, when “Circles Around This Town” opens the A-side of the album, listeners will be able to appreciate the “hard work will pay off” root which informs the song as well as the pop-country heart which powers it – but, when the song ends, listeners may find it difficult to recall any one memorable thing about the song.That same difficulty is the primary trouble with the A-side’s sophomore cut, “The Furthest Thing”; sure – the gentle, very Coyote Ugly production hung on the song is time-tested and effective, but it doesn’t leave much of an aftertaste.
Then “I Can’t Love You Anymore” lines itself up in the side’s running and, while the change that’s in the air is not easy to quantify, listeners won’t be able to miss that there’s something about the song. From its opening notes, Maren Morris finds a heart and melodic design which have been the recipe for a Country hit for the last half a century or more (echoes of George Strait and Loretta Lynn all surface in the song’s play right away), and adds herself smoothly to that mixture. The results are startling in their quality; with a delicate, methodical rhythm locked down tightly, Morris just pours herself into lines like, “Should’ve known what I was getting in/ Falling for a boy from Michigan/ You love your mom every mid-west kid/ You like driving to Texas/ You put up with all my exes/ To deserve you, I don’t know what the hell I did,” and listeners will just fall in line behind her, effortlessly. They’ll ride happily through the song’s peaks and valleys, and sigh warmly when it closes, just two and a half minutes later.
When it ends, “I Can’t Love You Anymore” will have claimed listeners hearts. Some of those hooked may start the album over right then and there to discover the treasures of “Circles Around This Town” and “The Furthest Thing, but others may press forward with the knowledge that they can start again at the top of the album later. For now, they’ll want to see what else is on Humble Quest to find.
While listeners may decide that the album’s title track (which immediately follows “I Can’t Love You Anymore”) fumbles the ball a bit with its muted instrumentation, garish vocal double-tracking and overwrought lyrics, “Nervous” recovers the running nicely before the needle lifts from the side. There, some dramatic tones mix with a rigid, almost marching beat, and the chords vary from feeling uncertain and reserved in the verses to about as close to hard and rocky as it’s possible to veer, through the choruses. The definition of a country-rock album cut, “Nervous” manages to bait listeners along with strong drums and vocals and will find listeners hoping for more as they hurriedly flip the record over in hopes of keeping the energy of the A-side up through the B-.
…And while the B-side of Humble Quest opens by spontaneously shifting to the “so cute and sweet, it might give you cavities” pop drivel of “Tall Guys” (which, with lines like, “They keep me looking up/ When I’m feeling down/ I can always find ’em/ In the middle of a crowd,” just feels canned, canny and convenient, on its face), the running slides smoothly into more satisfying country forms as “Detour” inspires sensations similar to the ones that Dolly Parton’s “Islands In The Stream” once did so well, and “Good Friends” brushes close to the kind of pop that songwriting team The Matrix helped to coat in gold and platinum twenty years ago before finally coming to a serene close with “What Would This World Do.” There, after having already hit pop and country points hard the whole album through, Morris eases her way out confidently atop slick changes and styling which is perfectly refined. It’s really easy to find satisfaction in that final form; lines like, “There’s a billion stars in the midnight sky/ There’s a million cars on the 405/ Spinning like it will ’til the end of time/ But what would this world do without you?” come across in a way which is both tentative and romantic – and they (along with the perfectly chosen melody and tempo) will have listeners falling backwards into them. “What Would This World Do” is honestly the perfect kind of song to close Humble Quest. It’s the kind of song which warms hearts, but also leaves a feeling of wanting to hear more – either by flipping the record over to begin the running again, or by attempting to find another album. Either way, after running front-to-back with Humble Quest, listeners will want more Maren Morris in their lives. [Bill Adams]
Humble Quest is out now. Buy it here, on the artist’s official website.