Texas-born singer-songwriter Maren Morris‘ second studio album, Girl, had a lot to live up to. Morris’ 2016 label debut Hero was an immediate smash. Singles like “My Church” and “Rich” got quite a bit of country radio play — unfortunately a rarity in the genre for women these days — and her bold, powerful voice made Morris a natural crossover into mainstream pop. Morris beat out half of Fifth Harmony, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Anne Marie to collaborate with Zedd on the inescapable “The Middle.” You can channel surf the radio at any given time and hear her on at least three stations, guaranteed.
Hero crackled with raw and exciting talent and Morris’ scrappy, spunky songwriting. “The Middle” proved she could bring her spiky energy to pop and knock it out of the park, but that song sparkled with the rare energy of a real smash, the kind that comes like a shooting star once in an album cycle. If Morris kept to the country sound she perfected on Hero, she’d be giving up her pop breakout momentum. If she tried to make an album full of “The Middle” sound-alikes, chances are most of them wouldn’t have the same magic.
On Girl, Morris splits the difference, with middling results. Morris finds the sweet spot between the two genres with an album full of mid-tempo love songs and contemplative ballads. Girl shows Morris as a country queen, pop princess, and singer-songwriter all her own. But all of those ambitions are hard to hold all at once, and Girl struggles under the weight of everything it wants to be.
When Girl works, it really, really works. Morris sings the hell out of every song on this record, but the title track might have some of her most impressive vocals yet. In the song, she’s the reassuring voice on the other end of the phone, reminding a friend (or you, or herself) that we all have bad days sometimes, but “everything’s gonna be okay, baby girl.” Every time Morris sings the word “girl” she sounds like an entire chorus, louder and more powerful than any one person should be. The song also has a thrillingly hard guitar riff, which she said in an interview “scared” her because of it was “so rock and a little aggressive.” It’s a cool bit of experimentation, though, and Morris is every bit the rock star on that song.