Maren Morris has a new album on the way in March, “Humble Quest,” and fans won’t have to meet her in the middle. As the single released a week ago, “Circles Around This Town,” seemed to promise, the singer is doubling down on country, rather than move into the pop crossover sphere that seemed to be hers if she wanted it.
“Circles Around This Town,” due March 25, is her first album to be produced entirely by hitmaker Greg Kurstin (most famous for his work with Adele), after he handled a couple of tracks on her previous effort, “Girl,” which was mostly helmed by her late mentor, Busbee, as one of his final projects.
But if Kurstin’s further involvement might have seemed to augur a further move into the kind of pop he’s known for, that doesn’t seem to be how it panned out. A New York Times story about the making of the album says that Kurstin “had never made an entire country record before” but now he has. It marks “definitely my first dobro in a session,” Kurstin told the newspaper.
Although Morris collaborates with pop songwriters on the album — including Julia Michaels and Sarah Aarons, the latter of whom co-penned her pop smash “The Middle” — the singer tells the Times that she’d previously determined “that I wasn’t going to go back into that lane unless it was as good or better than what Sarah wrote” with that one-off crossover sensation. Morris says that she and Aarons laugh about having been part of that phenomenon — telling each other, “Remember when we wrote that song that every person and their child on the planet can sing?” — and have had no designs on replicating it.
In writing “Circles Around This Town,” a single about her early days in Nashville that has lyrical callbacks to her original hits like “My Church,” Morris says: ““I was like, ‘Where’s this girl been?’ … It was so refreshing.”
The new album includes tributes to her growing family — not just her son (“Hummingbird”) but her husband, Ryan Hurd, with “Tall Guys” — which might be obvious just from the title to anyone who has seen them duet on their recent joint hit, “Chasing After You,” performing from distinctly different points above sea level.
Morris is known as one of the more outrightly socially conscious singers in country, especially in the currently Grammy-nominated non-album single “Better Than We Found It,” and the Times quotes her as singing in the forthcoming album’s title track that “I was so nice till I woke up / I was polite till I spoke up.”
She does, however, say that she has some regrets about weighing in immediately on the Morgan Wallen fracas in early 2021. “Knowing that I’m not the educator was a big pill to swallow,” Morris says in the article “Twitter is such an enticing app because it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s so warm in your pocket — the whole world. I can immediately shoot this off.’ And yeah, I just cringe sometimes when I’m like, ‘oh God, like, did that need to be in a tweet?’ … I just know that my allyship has to be more proactive and not reactive.” Still, she says, speaking about the country world and subjects like racial disparity that she has spoken her mind on: “I think there’s crumbs that are given out to people to make it feel like there’s progress. But once you’re awake to it — how the system protects itself — you can’t close your eyes again. So you kind of have to be the squeaky wheel.”
Speaking with Apple Music’s “Today’s Country Radio with Kelleigh Bannen,” Morris said, “I think the whole last two years was very humbling on the human race. So I wanted to peer into myself. And I’m obviously talking about things specifically to my life, like having my son and motherhood and the death of Busbee. And there’s a lot of stuff in there that I’m tackling internally, but my intention with all of it, just from the get-go after we wrote ‘Circles [Around This Town],’ actually, was to not steep in self-pity. So I don’t feel like there’s any song on ‘Humble Quest’ that is woe is me. It’s all really optimistic (although it) looks at very dark, real subjects.”
The track list for “Humble Quest”:
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