“I was so nice til I woke up/ I was polite til I spoke up,” sings Maren Morris on “Humble Quest,” the title track from her third album, which is out today (March 25).
It’s been three years since the release of Girl, the sophomore set that made Morris a star in both the country and pop worlds with the crossover hit “The Bones,” which built on the previous pop success of her 2018 feature on Zedd’s “The Middle.” In that time, Morris’s voice has become even more supple, capable of caressing the notes when she sings about her love for her son on “Hummingbird,” expressing a welcome playfulness on “Tall Guys” and a searing vulnerability on “What Would This World Do.”
Morris has also found her voice outside of the studio. She’s become one of the most outspoken advocates for diversity and inclusion in country music — never afraid to speak her truth while never forgoing her love for the genre.
It’s with that same fearlessness that she approaches the Greg Kurstin-produced Humble Quest. An intimacy permeates the often subtle production as she lets the listener into different corners of her world, especially her relationship with husband and fellow artist, Ryan Hurd. Like all of us, she’s been through a lot the past few years and she’s feeling all of it, whether it’s loss, new parenthood, romantic love or loneliness and in sharing her experiences so openly, she has created her most inviting work yet.
Here’s an early ranking of every song on Humble Quest:
While most songs on this project contemplate the finer details of committed relationships, this track is all verve and desire. A sultry backbeat and gritty reverb nicely service this raw rocker that finds her infatuated with her lover, to a level of intensity that surprises even herself. “Tracing my body like you’re learning cursive, researching/ Just how high your touch can take a person,” she sings. Sounding at once refined and anxious, her voice ripples over the verses, just before a soaring belt that showcases her dynamic range. – Jessica Nicholson
10. “Tall Guys”
One of the wittiest tracks in the batch, Morris makes light of the height disparity between herself and husband Ryan Hurd (Morris is 5’ 1” while Hurd is 6’ 3”). From feeling free to wear her highest heels to flying first class because “that’s the only way his knees fit,” she details the various situations they find themselves in. “We don’t always see eye to eye, but a different point of view is alright,” she muses, though this plucky track ultimately celebrates someone who keeps her “looking up when I’m feeling down. – J.N.
9. “I Can’t Love You Anymore”
While the title may seem like we’re headed for a weeper, the reality is quite the opposite in this testament to enduring love. It turns out that Morris is so in love with her man — presumably Hurd — that she simply couldn’t love him any more than she does. Strumming on an acoustic guitar on the most twangy song on the album, Morris playfully sings of Hurd: “Lighten up my heavy/ So good looking it kind of makes me sick.” – Melinda Newman
When Morris teamed with Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile for their 2019 album The Highwomen, Morris was a co-writer on “My Name Can’t Be Mama,” an intimate glimpse into the struggles of motherhood. Morris delves deeper into the topic on “Hummingbird,” the first song written for Humble Quest, penned this track the day she found out she was pregnant with her son Hayes Andrew. Hayes, now 2, makes a cameo on this intimate, acoustic lullaby. “I’ll hold you in my loving arms/ But I’ll let you fly free,” she sings in this tender tribute, which she wrote with Love Junkies members Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey. – J.N.
7. “Background Music”
This tender waltz beautifully addresses the ephemeral nature of time and love and the permanence of art. Sounding a little like Taylor Swift, Morris professes that she will love Hurd until all they are is “background music,” taking sweet comfort in knowing their human forms will eventually turn to dust, the music they create will live forever, even if their names have been long forgotten and they are relegated to background music. Written by Morris for Hurd with Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins. -M.N.
6. “The Furthest Thing”
As Morris examines her and Hurd’s relationship from many different angles, on this and a number of other tracks, she marvels that they are together even though they are “the furthest thing” from each other, “But damn, do we still fit so perfectly.” Against a shimmery, lilting melody she and Hurd lament the time their careers force them to spend apart (“the furthest thing” also is literal in that they are often thousands of miles apart), but rejoices that “something in the universe pulls me back to you.” -M.N.
5. “What Would This World Do”
Inspired by her producer/close friend busbee as he was dying from a brain tumor, this emotional piano ballad reflects on how even though the earth keeps turning in the face of great personal loss and “there are strangers who won’t have a clue,” her world is forever changed. Though her situation and the reason for writing the song was distinctly personal, Morris has crafted a universal ode to grief that never crosses over into the maudlin, but delicately captures the relentless sorrow as she sings “The only thing that I’m sure of is that I’ll never be the same” because “out of everybody, I’ll only have one you.” Given the tremendous loss that we have all suffered the past two years, “World” serves as the perfect contemplative album closer. – M.N.
4. “Good Friends”
Plinking piano, handclaps and a swaying groove underscore this ode of devotion that honors a time-tested ride-or-die who offers unflinching support and acceptance. “Bridges are burning all over/ But not on our street,” she croons, celebrating seasoned friendships that endure despite life changes, emotional upheavals and everything in between. – J.N.
A gently chugging melody, bolstered by a pedal steel, drives this sweet testament to finding joy in the journey and the pleasure in changing the route when the right person is by your side. “I don’t mind a detour/ I don’t mind the wrong way home… as long as I still get to be yours.” One of Morris’s strongest and most supple vocals on the album. – M.N.
2. “Humble Quest”
The title track serves as Morris’s manifesto as she navigates her way through this world and her career that any woman will be able to relate to. “Been biting my tongue behind a smile/ Falling on swords I can’t see…. got easier not to ask/ Just keep hitting my head on the glass/ I was so nice til I woke up,” she sings in a sweet voice that belies the bile in her words. As she continues, she questions how she moves forward in her “humble quest” to find the answers and the way forward with humility, authenticity and grace. – M.N.
1. “Circles Around This Town”
The first single from Humble Quest, this track is a clear-eyed reminiscence of Morris’s early days in Nashville, full of co-writes, handshakes, passion and hustle, as a young writer “Tryna say somethin’ with meaning/ Somethin’ worth singin’ about.” Sonically, the song embodies a crunchier, more rootsy vibe than other recent fare such as “The Bones,” and nods to her breakthrough hits “My Church” and “’80s Mercedes.” But make no mistake, even with an arsenal of hits, she has plenty of ambition left in the tank. As she asserts in the chorus, “I still got the pedal down.” – J.N.