The new album from country hitmaker MAREN MORRIS arrives on March 25. Cait Watters lends her ear to a thoughtful, reflective collection.
Humble Quest is Maren Morris’ third major label release, adding to an already extensive and solid discography.
In such a relatively short space of time, Morris has made an indelible mark on the genre. Her debut, Hero (2016), was Grammy nominated; the follow-up, GIRL (2019), picked up CMA Album of the Year; and, amongst all that, she has achieved crossover success and formed her own country supergroup, The Highwomen.
Now in 2022, Humble Quest is the album that comes after three very challenging, different and life-changing years for the singer. A global pandemic, motherhood, the loss of a close friend… Events that, on their own, would have a huge impact on an individual. For Morris, however, these were all things that she was juggling concurrently. It’s still the same charming Texan we know and love but her life is distinctly different from when we first met her.
As opener ‘Circles Around This Town’ points out, Maren got her breakthrough singing a song about ‘a car and the one about a church’ – alluding, of course, to hits ‘80s Mercedes’ and ‘My Church’, two songs full of nostalgia and yearning for simpler times. This is a song about the Nashville hustle, one that ‘so many times [she] thought about leaving’. Morris has persevered and put in the work to get to here, where she is today which, by all means, seems a good place.
Humble Quest marks a shift from living in that sort of past to living in the present, thus that opener feels apt. Family, in particular, is a big reason why Morris looks forward now, and it is a theme that features heavily.
‘The Furthest Thing’ is about missing her loved ones as she tours, hitting different towns every night. Distance only makes an already full heart grow fonder. Morris has just announced an extensive, forty-one date tour starting in the summer in support of the album, so I suspect this one may be an emotional one live at those shows.
‘I Can’t Love You Anymore’ follows, the title deceptive. It’s not about falling out of love with her husband, Ryan Hurd. In fact, it is quite the opposite as she struggles to understand what she did to land a guy like him. She certainly did seem to hit the jackpot with him, and a shoutout to Hurd is absolutely necessary. Not only is he a seemingly great husband, but he is a fine songwriter, too, featuring in the credits of multiple tracks, including this one. Other notable names on this release include fellow Highwoman, Natalie Hemby; longtime collaborator, Greg Kirsten; and Julia Michaels.
‘Tall Guys’ is another ode to her man, a lovely little lighthearted one as Morris reels off the perks of being with a much taller guy – for those who haven’t glimpsed the duo on a red carpet, he’s 6’3” and towers over his 5’1” wife. It’s cutesy and charming but also symbolic. Hurd keeps her ‘looking up when [she’s] feeling down’ in ways besides the obvious height difference.
There’s a track for her child on here too, the lovely ‘Hummingbird’. A gentle lullaby accompanied by an acoustic guitar, Morris sings to her baby and promises to never hold them back in life.
One of the writers of ‘The Middle’, the 2018 Zedd hit that Morris featured on, also features on this record. Sarah Aarons has a hand in writing ‘Detour’, a toe-tapper of an acoustic number that’s so drastically different from the pop megasmash. A reminder that Morris – and Aarons, too – can both be very versatile artists.
My favorite is the bluesy ‘Nervous’, a track about falling for someone, hard. The opening is steady, somewhat subdued before the chorus hits and, just like those feelings of attraction, hits hard. The music and lyrics go hand in hand, and Morris’ voice sounds just so great here.
There’s another strand of thought on Humble Quest and it’s one that we all think about but, perhaps, don’t want to talk about. That is, the inevitability of the end and how everything, really, is only temporary at the end of the day. ‘Background Music’ looks at this through the lens of a relationship. ‘We got time but we’re only human/Call it forever but we know that there’s an end to it’. Nothing truly lasts forever, and Morris sings about a desire to live in the present and to enjoy every second while she has it. Given the past few years, it’s not difficult to see how she’s reached such a way of thinking.
The final track, ‘What Would This World Do?’ is about the late, and much missed, Michael Busbee – the industry legend known simply as busbee who was both her producer and a dear friend. The track, written before his passing from cancer, is an emotional one. Morris doesn’t want to think about a life without him, before she comes to the heartbreaking realization that the world will keep spinning and that it’s her world that’ll come to a grinding halt if she loses him – a shift from ‘What will this world do?’ to ‘What will my world do?’. A beautiful, worthy tribute to an incredible talent taken far too soon.
Humble Quest sees Maren Morris focus on what she has now. It’s less poppy than her recent hits and a return to a more rootsy and acoustic vibe. It’s personal yet feels so relatable. Above all else, it feels optimistic. A lot of challenges have been thrown her way and yet she’s still here, and quite content with her life.
It seems like a lock for Album of the Year nominations come award season.
Maren Marris – Humble Quest – Track Listing
1. Circles Around This Town
2. The Furthest Thing
3. I Can’t Love You Anymore
4. Humble Quest
5. Background Music
7. Tall Guys
10. Good Friends
11. What Would This World Do?