Ever since Maren Morris dropped her latest album “Hero” earlier this summer (it reached No. 1 on the Billboard country chart in its first week), one word has consistently popped up in profiles and reviews: “adventurous.”
It seems that if someone does a country album with elements of pop, R&B and even hip-hop (as well as several well-placed s-bombs), “adventurous” is the go-to word to describe that artist’s music.
“I didn’t really set out to have this bombastic record,” says Morris, 26, on the phone en route to Wisconsin, where she recently performed at the Northwoods Music Festival. “I really just came from the songwriting world and, with my musical tastes and what I was brought up on, I couldn’t really put any sort of feeling on the genre of this album. That’s not what I had in mind making it. I just wanted to make a record that was true to me and what I was inspired by and what I was going through at the time. I’m flattered that people listen to it and think that it’s adventurous and unique. I guess I kind of categorize it as, like, all over the place in a consistent way.”
Of course, the Arlington, Texas, native grew up with music all around her, as her parents introduced her to many genres of music. But she also grew up in Dallas, which not only gave the country world the Dixie Chicks and longtime Morris pal Kacey Musgraves, but genre-bouncing singer-songwriters like Edie Brickell. For a Bill Clinton-era kid like Morris, it was an embarrassment of riches.
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“It wasn’t just country,” she says. “It was rock. It was ’70s soul. It was Motown. And, then, at the same time, I grew up through the ’90s. So, when that Sheryl Crow album came out – ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ – I was really influenced by that early on. There was a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan – another Texan – Willie Nelson, Radney Foster. I mean, I grew up on a lot – but the kitchen sink.”
Morris, who will be opening for Keith Urban Friday night at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, has been out there for more than a minute. She released three independent albums before moving to Nashville and signing with Big Yellow Dog Music as a staff songwriter. Those years on Nashville’s Music Row, penning cuts for such artists as Tim McGraw, Kelly Clarkson and “Nashville” star Aubrey Peeples, certainly reminded her what she wanted to include (and not include) when it came time to do her album.
“I think the point of artistry is to obviously write and create what is true to yourself,” she says. “But I’m not gonna lie – I wrote for the radio for years, trying to figure out what was trending, why is this sound so prevalent in some of these songs I hear in (Music) Row. I really quantized what was trendy on the radio. But, with my own stuff, with my record, I didn’t really set out to follow any sort of trend. I just wanted to make something that piqued my interest. That’s sort of, first and foremost, the most important thing: do I love it?”
While “Hero” shows that Morris can go from brassy on one song to vulnerable on another, her direct demeanor as an artist has made some call her the newest bad girl in country music – this year’s Gretchen Wilson.
“Hey, I’m not burning anyone’s house down. I’m not, like, kicking some dude’s (expletive). I’m just speaking my truth in a very realistic way. Lyrically, on the album, I try to keep it really simple and try not to pretty it up too much. I wanted it to be really conversational.”
Whatever you want to call her, just know that she’s an artist and she’s serious about her stuff.
“I’m just trying to be as honest as possible with my music,” she says.
Who: Keith Urban, with Brett Eldredge and Maren Morris
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Info: 919-831-6400 or ticketmaster.com