Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: March 25th 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Sony Music Entertainment
- Circles Around This Town
- The Furtheset Thing
- I Can’t Love You Anymore
- Humble Quest
- Background Music
- Tall Guys
- Good Friends
- What Would This World Do?
Maren Morris has been in and around the music industry from quite some time. From her 2016 secular-gospel crossover radio hit ‘My Church’, to her collaboration with DJ Zedd on the song ‘The Middle’, to her breakout 2nd album GIRL, we see one of the brightest sparks and underrated gems of country music, continue to make waves and become one of the most impactful and influential up and coming country artists of this side of the millennia. Artists like Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Shania Twain, Sara Evans, The Judds, The Chicks, Keith Urban, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Brooks & Dunn (to name a few) are just some of the many country artists who have paved the way during the 1990s and 2000s, and artists like Maren Morris, Lindsay Ell, Thomas Rhett, Mickey Guyton, Tenille Townes, Maddie & Tae, Dan + Shay, Jana Kramer, Hunter Hayes, Kelsea Ballerini and Lauren Alania (just a few of many, many more artists over the last few years) are some of the recipients of the well-earned hard work that were laid down by artist from years ago. Maren is indeed a standout artist over the last few years- we even wrote a blog post about her a few years back, as part of a blog series discussing impactful music artists now and into the future (of which Maren is, by my own definition, definitely a part of). That was a few years ago- upon the release of Maren’s 2019 album GIRL, we as a site figured out that her music was something special. We quickly wrote a blog about her music shortly after, then reviewed her 2020 confronting (yet equally sobering) single ‘Better Than We Found It’. Fast-forward to 2022 and Maren is certainly not slowing down- the release of Humble Quest was at the end of March 2022, and with pre-release singles like ‘Circles Around This Town’, ‘Nervous’ and ‘Background Music’; Humble Quest has become a great country album standout in 2022 thus far- maybe even rivalling country albums 10 Year Plan (The Shires) and Bloor Street (Kiefer Sutherland) as being the top country album of 2022 to date.
‘Circles Around This Town’, ‘Background Music’ and ‘Nervous’ are the three pre-release single releases unveiled prior to the official date of Humble Quest (January, February, and early March 2022), and each of these three songs form the backbone, thematically and lyrically, to what Humble Quest represents as a whole, and a reminder of how talented Maren actually is in her songwriting skills. ‘Circles Around This Town’ was unveiled in early January 2022; and spoke about Maren’s own personal love for the town that she lives in now, Nashville, Tennessee; even though she was from Austin, Texas when she was younger. ‘Circles Around This Town’ is a reminder of Maren’s own dream-chasing all the way from Texas to Tennessee, and the events and feats that brought her from there to here. While ‘Circles Around This Town’ is perhaps one of the most personal songs of Maren’s at this point in time; we as listeners can still glean from the song, that everything we experience from our childhood to now, and these experiences now, all shape our lives into the future…good or bad.
‘Background Music’ was the next song to have been available as a pre-release track, which is a heartfelt, acoustically-driven melody that reminds us of what love ought to be down the track, when everything that you do fades away. As Maren herself relays about the song, we see such vulnerability, making ‘Background Music’ one of the most emotional and compelling songs on the album- ‘…I wrote with Ryan [my husband] a ton on this album. But I didn’t write “Background Music” with him, I wrote it for him. It was originally supposed to be this sexy approach of, like ‘When I’m with you, everything else is background music.’ I was talking with [co-writers] Laura Veltz and Jimmy Robbins for over an hour, and it occurred to me that, no, this should be about the fact that Ryan and I always talk about how you get a ten-year run in this town if you’re lucky, and then you kind of become a legacy act and start playing casinos. We’re just totally open to all of it. That song was born out of us laughing at the idea of us being old as s*** and has-beens at some point, but still having this golden era of our relationship and our songs that live on. It’s sweet to think about us no longer being on this Earth but maybe our songs are still getting played in someone’s car in 100 years — or maybe a flying car, I don’t know what it’ll look like. I just thought that was more romantic than eternity to me, knowing that our songs may live on past us, and they probably will. I think I only could have written that song had there been a pandemic; even though “The Bones” kind of peaked during COVID, I was looking at the idea of not being able to tour again, and what that would be like. What’s my identity without that? What’s my worth? In a sort of sardonic way, I was able to approach “Background Music” from a space of, This might not be forever. I might not be nominated for these categories forever or sparkle, but it was cool when we thought we were cool…’ ‘Nervous’ is the last pre-release track unveiled by Maren prior to her 3rd studio album, and with the song standing at a tad below 3 minutes, we see Maren deliver ‘Nervous’ with songwriters Jimmy Robbins and fellow Highwaywomen vocalist Natalie Hemby. The song itself is presented as a blues-rock anthem about a persona who is head over heels in love (or is it lust or infatuation?) with someone, so much to the point where thinking about them and being around them makes them feel sick (or is it just lovesickness?). The persona is taken aback by the beauty of this person they’re infatuated with, and while ‘Nervous’ depicts lovesickness in its extreme, the song still allows us to figure out if we’re really in love with the person we’re with, or if it’s only infatuation disguised as love.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see Maren continue to deliver songs of hope and encouragement, as this set of songs starts to become some of the most cohesive out of all of the country albums released in 2022 thus far. ‘The Furthest Thing’ slows down the tempo a bit in a track heavily impacted by light looping percussion and a strong keyboard presence. The song itself expresses a sense of gratitude, as Maren shows us that her and her husband and their union seems to be the furthest thing, from expections of others and their own, from societal norms, and every other metric- yet the song suggests that both Maren and Ryan still fit together perfectly in spite of opinions and assumptions. ‘I Can’t Love You Anymore’ showcases a folksy rootsy musical flavour, as Maren underlays this understanding and notion, that she can’t love her husband anymore (and even less) than she does right now, complimenting his durability and ability to stand by her, even during the moment where she believes he shouldn’t. Title track ‘Humble Quest’ reminds us of the never-ending life-long quest each of us are on through our own journeys, all the while allowing us to undertake all of this with grace, poise and humility (to be ok with not being right, to be open to other perspectives with the ability to empathise with another person who may differ in opinion- on maybe everything); whilst a tongue in cheek ‘Tall Guys’ lightens up the mood of the album towards the middle, with Maren listing all of the things that she likes about tall guys (maybe as both someone to be in relationship with, or even someone to be friends with)- ‘…they keep me lookin’ up, when I’m feelin’ down, I can always find ’em in the middle of a crowd, when I can’t see over, he puts me on his shoulders, I can wear my heels real high, I’m a lover of all types but there’s something ’bout tall guys, tall guys…’. ‘Detour’ follows along from ‘Tall Guys’, highlighting one of the most important themes on the album- the importance of things in life not always going to plan, that sometimes in life, a detour occurring isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And to delve a little further, sometimes God allows detours in our own lives, so that we can learn something about ourselves, Himself, and each other, in the process.
‘Hummingbird’ is an acoustic lullaby Maren wrote and recorded about her pregnancy and her potential motherhood (at that time), and the feelings that come and surround a person when they understand and realise they’re going to be a mother to a child; while ‘Good Friends’ is an ode to great friendship and how friendship at its core is being there for someone even when that someone doesn’t even realise they need help, or even to take it one step further, knows they do need help, but doesn’t even want your help. Friendship is showing up when it counts and matters, about sacrifice and loyalty, never asking why, and just undertaking the right thing- because it’s always the right thing to do. The album then ends with the emotive and reflective ‘What Would This World Do?’, a song very poignant and personal to Maren herself, who wrote this song as a response the feelings surrounding record producer busbee’s death. Busbee the producer impacted a lot of musicians throughout the years, and I guess Maren felt it right to create a song in his honour- and a compelling one at that. Similar to how ‘Visiting Hours’ by Ed Sheeran was to honour the late Michael Gudinski; ‘What Would This World Do?’ is a reminder of busbee’s impact on the world, that the pondering of ‘what would this world do without you’ is a reminder to each of us, of how significant this person was to the life of Maren, that after they’re gone, this world won’t look or even be the same. A sombre song that speaks about death, life, loss, and heartbreak all within the confines of 4 minutes or so, Maren authentically delivers this hauntingly confronting track, but also one of the most needed songs on the album, full stop.
So, there we have it… Humble Quest. 11 tracks of authentic emotion and heartfelt melodies discussing themes prevalent to society at the moment. An album that isn’t necessarily pop, nor is it fully country, but then that’s ok. It’s an album that doesn’t necessarily ‘fit’, and maybe that’s ok. For an album that has this amount of emotion attached to it, Maren has done well to not fit in certain music genre moulds…but for all intents and purposes, this is by far one of the most holistic and heartfelt country albums I’ve heard in 2022 thus far (along the lines of 10 Year Plan and Bloor Street). An album that’s definitely a must, if you enjoy similar artists like Miranda Lambert, Carly Pearce or even Tenille Townes; Humble Quest is even God’s way of reminding us that we are indeed on a quest to find out the mysteries of the universe that have boggled people’s minds for centuries- why are we here, and does my life even matter? Well done Maren for such a powerful and challenging album, here’s hoping people think about issues and discuss things that matter, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
‘…I wrote “Hummingbird” the day that I found out I was pregnant. It’s one of the last things that I was able to share with busbee, and he was so excited for us. Shortly before he died, Ryan and our friend, [songwriter] Jon Green, who was really close friends with busbee as well, wrote “What Would This World Do,” which is the final song of this record. We wrote it that day knowing busbee probably wasn’t going to pull through, because it was such a deteriorative downfall, and his diagnosis was so quick. We wrote that song in an almost hopeful space, like, If we write this into existence, maybe he’ll hold on. But that obviously didn’t happen. Now that you mention the bookends, it’s really crazy — before this album became a thing, or “Circles” was the first single, I was writing two songs before the pandemic about literal life and death: my son being born and then my friend passing away. Ending the record with “What Would This World Do” just felt like a hopefully respectful way to honor what he’s done for me. Even though he’s not musically part of this project, he’s all over it, because he helped me create my sound in the beginning. There were a lot of firsts with this record: I was grieving my friend, and I was grieving my loss of purpose with touring being taken away for so long, and I was also dealing with postpartum depression, and the incandescent joy that comes with new parenthood and being obsessed with your baby. It was just so many emotions, and going into putting it on a page, I feel like I just didn’t have any more space in my brain for insecurity of if this will be received well. I was like, I just have to get this out. I think this is why it’s such a beautiful chapter for me. I’m not trying to prove anything. I feel like a grown-ass woman on this record, but it’s also not trying too hard…
…I’ve been having this moving target for so long, and equating success with accolades and what I’ve achieved. That all got wiped away. This whole record and the way it’s titled is about the idea that I don’t know if I’m ever going to reach that destination. That’s why we wrote that line in “Humble Quest”: “I still haven’t found it yet.” I’m doing my best, but I haven’t found it yet — and maybe I never will. Maybe that’s just the dash between your birth and death, just trying to figure it out and being awkward and uncomfortable and curious and joyful throughout. I think this album is definitely not a period at the end of a sentence by any means; it’s an ongoing discussion I’m going to be having with myself for forever. This is just a snapshot of it for the yearbook. But I think no one’s got it figured out. We’re all just awkwardly making our way through it, and messing up, and saying the wrong things, and getting yelled at on Twitter. All of the things are so public-facing. It’s starting to break down the internalization of our egos. But I think that for me, music has helped my son, my husband, my friends — they’ve all helped me, even picking up cooking and tennis during the pandemic, it’s all made me color in more of these blank spaces that I didn’t know I had that live outside of music. It’s just not my end all be all anymore. It’s what I choose to love and not what I have to do to feel loved…’
3 songs to listen to: Background Music, What Would This World Do, Circles Around This Town
RIYL: Lindsay Ell, Miranda Lambert, Tenille Townes, Carly Pearce