What is honesty? As I started to write this weeks’ post, I began with that question. I read a few quotes about the artist featured this week in Weekly Music Commentary, Maren Morris. Several times I read a statement about her lyrics being honest. Okay! What are honest lyrics? The word can be defined by other words: integrity, truthfulness and sincerity. That helps us understand the meaning of honesty. Is it possible that music or lyrics can be honest? Can music be dishonest? Are there any examples? Something to think about.
One of the best ways to define honest music might be to look at the young songwriter of whom the words were spoken. Maren Morris was born on April 10, 1990, in Arlington, Texas, is an American country music singer, songwriter, and record producer. She has released four studio albums. Morris is the reigning 2016 CMA New Artist of the Year and was nominated for four awards, including Best New Artist, at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, where “My Church” won the award for Best Country Solo Performance.
Like several artists before her, Morris got her start in the music industry as a songwriter. She spent several years in Nashville writing songs for other artists, including “Last Turn Home” on Tim McGraw’s 2014 album Sundown Heaven Town, and “Second Wind”, which Kelly Clarkson sang on her 2015 album Piece by Piece. And she started shaping a community of like-minded friends leading a new charge in the country climate: the Brothers Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, Lucie Silvas. “It feels like a modern-day Chelsea Hotel,” she says of her very close, very talented pals. They became a tight-knit circle dead-set on helping each other evolve into unique, game-changing artists.
Morris initially self-released five songs as an eponymous extended play, Maren Morris, on Spotify in August 2015. The songs gained 2.5 million streams on Spotify in a month, with three songs appearing on Spotify’s US and Global “Viral 50” chart. The success of Morris’ EP attracted the interest of major labels, and she became signed to Columbia Nashville in September 2015. The label re-released the five-song EP, on November 6, 2015, with “My Church” the lead single. Following airplay on country radio, along with several in-studio appearances on satellite radio, this EP charted on two Billboard charts—number 27 on the Country Albums chart and number one on the Top Heatseekers chart—and sold 2,400 copies in its début week. “My Church” reached number five on the Hot Country Songs chart and was certified Gold by the RIAA.
Last year, June 3, 2016, Maren Morris released her début major label studio album HERO. “I don’t want to ease anyone into this record,” Morris says. “It’s not my personality. It feels so good to start the album out that way, and the music itself is not shy. But then it goes on to these really internal moments, too.” After listening to the entire album I must agree. HERO got off to a powerful start and never let up. Maren Morris easily fits in as one of my favorite new country music artists. The album also has made its way into my personal listening library. I’ve stated before that when I add an album into my personal library, that’s the greatest compliment I can offer.
The reason many might be drawn to Maren Morris songs might be found by looking at some aspects of her early performances and life. Born in Texas, Morris would often dominate the karaoke machine when her parents, who owned a local hair salon, would throw parties – and she’d belt LeAnn Rimes and Patsy Cline to the bewilderment of guests. Her writing prowess began with stories and poems in school and blossomed into lyrics when her father bought her a guitar at age twelve – and she took to it instantly. “I started playing all around Texas – any bar or club that would let me in there,” she says. “I was the only kid in school that had a job on the weekends!” The albums that shaped her early life were varied – like Patty Griffin, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow – but she also grasped quickly that while she loved country and roots music, she felt most at home when bending genre lines. It wasn’t uncommon for her to spin both Clint Black and Chaka Khan, developing into what she calls a “gangster June Carter,” with a laugh.
Let’s go back and talk about Maren Morris’ honest music. HERO is an album dedicated to pushing boundaries both in music and in her own heart, finding that place where melodies can be both deliciously joyous and thoughtfully reflective all at once. “HERO is all about a journey,” she says. “A lot of these songs came from a place of honesty and redemption. I looked very carefully at my own life, and that itself feels very heroic.”
If HERO is from a place of honesty, but does that mean some music does not come from a place of honesty? Not at all. Some songs might be based on a fictional story. Other songs might be about the life and experience of someone else. It does not mean the music is dishonest, just not as personal. This is what makes music from each artist unique. It comes from their minds, hearts and experience. One of the reasons I highlight the backgrounds of featured artists is that it tells the story of their music’s origin.
Next up for Maren Morris, She continues to tour and promote one of the best albums of our day. She also is engaged to marry fellow country music singer Ryan Hurd. Most likely there will be more honest music coming in the near future.