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Maren MorrisAlbum Review - Maren Morris: Girl

Since Maren Morris established her undeniable presence in 2016 with her glowing debut album Hero, she’s since become a crossover star with a voice that’s elevated country music. She reflects her evolution on her sophomore album, GIRL, stepping outside the confines of country music to blossom artistically in bold and beautiful ways.

Morris continues to experiment sonically on GIRL, blending soul and country to create a distinct sound alongside themes of love and empowerment. The first indication of this evolution is the lead single and opening title track, an inspiring message of owning the feeling of low self-esteem, with the singer filling the role of the friend who gives you the strength to move forward. She builds on this momentum of delivering important lessons with “Common.” She and Brandi Carlile bring a spiritual moment to the album with their honest and humble duet that captures the rawness of the modern world. The two weave pure soul into the core of the song, from the throbbing melody to the meaningful lyrics that exude vulnerability, encouraging people to get out from under the weight of the world and look at their neighbors with empathy, as we all have more in common than we realize.

Morris intertwines these significant themes alongside vivid love songs, writing about the subject in a way that finds her owning her sexuality, whether on the sultry “Make Out With Me” and “RSVP,” or beautifully capturing the love between her and husband Ryan Hurd on “Hell and Back,” a soaring number that features her glistening vocals on such admiring lyrics “you didn’t change me, you didn’t think I needed changing, my wings are frayed and the reflect of my halo’s black, lucky for me, your kind of heaven it’s been to hell and back.”

But the true north of the album are the moments of inspiration that reflect who Morris truly is and solidify her place as a young trailblazer, like the way she channels self-confidence into “All My Favorite People,” calling on friends John and TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne to revel in the unflinchingly honest aspects of life she appreciates most. We can only hope that the Tuesday nights mixing liquor with Crystal Light and finding clarity listening to John Prine albums on the back porch with a glass of wine are based on true stories, with Brothers Osborne contributing a bold presence to this rock-leaning, self-professed anthem.

But where Morris’ true sense of self comes to light is on “Flavor,” which feels like her personal declaration where she brazenly conveys how she’s still establishing her identity and puts forth the notion that originality takes time, all while celebrating those who challenge the norm. Deep in the song is one of the most striking messages on the album, as if she’s raising a middle finger to critics trying to suppress her and other women. “Yeah I’m a lady, I make my dough, won’t play the victim, don’t fit that mold, I speak my peace, don’t do what I’m told, shut up sing, well, hell no I won’t,” she sings persuasively, words we hope to hear fans chanting back to her during live shows.

Across 14 soul-searching songs, Morris proves that she’s a woman of integrity finding herself in different ways: through love, experimentation and, perhaps most notably, defying artistic boundaries. GIRL demonstrates her unique songwriting prowess, as she eloquently moves from the inspiring “GIRL” to a songs like “Make Out With Me” that are dripping in romance, before rounding out the album with “The Bones,” where she uses a withered, but unwavering home as a potent metaphor for a strong relationship.

GIRL is an important step in Morris’ growing legacy. She’s powerfully contributed her voice to the revolution surrounding equality for women in country music, and this album affirms with passionate songs like “GIRL,” “Flavor” and “Common,” in addition to eliciting female songwriters to co-write 10 of the album’s tracks. With GIRL, Morris advances to the next level, creating a dynamic project where she sincerely and intelligently lets the world into her insecurities and moments of weakness, only to rise through it all with perseverance. With her fearless nature, Morris proves the power of a female voice, making others feel equally as empowered as she is.

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Florida Georgia LineAlbum Review - Florida Georgia Line: Can’t Say I Ain’t Country

The title of Florida Georgia Line’s new album Can’t Say I Ain’t Country is more of a statement than it is a phrase, as the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley honor their country roots across 19 tracks.

The release of the bouncy, banjo-heavy lead single “Simple” served as a strong indication of the project’s overall sound that opens with the lively title track, a country anthem that has them proudly waving the flag for the country lifestyle. This element is integral to the album, as they continue to exude confidence in their roots on the rowdy “Y’all Boys” and “Small Town” that takes listeners on a John Deere tractor, basking in the summer sun and blazing down an old dirt road. No song better demonstrates their southern pride than the anthemic “Can’t Hide Red,” as they call on Jason Aldean to help proclaim that they no matter how far one ventures from their hometown, their roots will always be a part of their identity.

Though the album is mostly comprised of upbeat tunes, the sentimental ballad “Women” is a refreshing change of pace where Hubbard and Kelley’s voices shine alongside duet partner Jason Derulo as they harmoniously sing about the impactful women in their lives. It’s one of the most humble moments on the album as they express gratefulness in lyrics “learn more with every hand you holdin,’ just to get you ready for the one that’s right…women, beautiful women, we’re all better off with ‘em right by our side.” They carry this thoughtfulness into “People Are Different,” an unassuming song that finds the duo acknowledging a diverse range of people, encouraging acceptance and tolerance across all lifestyles from income levels to geographic differences. They close the album on a down-to-earth note with “Blessings,” a reflective ballad that sounds like a love letter dedicated to their wives, recognizing how they bring out the best in their character while sharing thankfulness for the beauty in the life they’ve built.

Can’t Say I Ain’t Country mainly follows the FGL formula, one that stands on a foundation of feel-good party songs. But this time, they’re steadfast in using music as a way to resist those who try to deny their place in country music. Fans of the duo’s previous work will likely appreciate Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, not only for its celebration of country life, but the honest messages that tell the story of those who identify with it.

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Maren MorrisAnnouncement - Maren Morris: Girl

At long last new music from Maren Morris has seen the light of day. The lead single from her upcoming sophomore studio album. Titled “Girl,” officially debutted on Thursday, Jan. 17, when it hit country radio at 4 p.m. CT.

The song was co-written by Morris with Sara Aarons (“The Middle,” Zedd/Maren Morris/Grey) and Greg Kirstin (Adele, Sia), who also served as producer.

The song gives a glimpse at the up-and-down path Morris took to achieve her dream, as she sings the words “Girl, don’t hang your head low. Don’t lose your halo. Everyone’s gonna be okay, baby, girl.”

The release of “Girl” comes nearly three years to the day after Morris released her debut single, “My Church.” The track, which is featured on her debut album HERO, has since been certified 2x Platinum.

Fans can expect more music from the GRAMMY-winning artist when her sophomore album drops later this year.

After months of toiling away in the recording studio Maren Morris is offering fans a taste of what she’s been working on. Enter “Girl,” a song with an empowering message to listeners they can overcome any obstacle in their way.

The inspiration for the track came as Morris was conflicted over how to react to another woman trying to constantly compete with her. Though she sat down to write it as a letter to the other woman, she eventually realized it was a message to herself.

“I am talking to my inner critic that says I’m not good enough,” she told Rolling Stone Country. “This is me telling myself it’s going to be OK and to chill the fuck out. Just write your music and put your blinders on. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or saying about you. Don’t water yourself down to appease them. Just focus on your art and the rest will fall into place.”

The song also points a strong message to the state of country music, where women are fighting tooth and nail for a shot at radio airtime.

“Looking at the country radio chart the last year, more titles had the word ‘girls’ in them than actual girls on the radio,” she explained. “I think in my head I wanted to buck the trend a little bit and be like, ‘I’m a girl, and I’m going to sing about a girl, and I’m the girl.”

“[‘Girl’] speaks to a time where every woman that is in music, or not even in music, is dealing with issues that face women,” Morris continued. “We’re so overly well aware of what we’re up against, it’s almost like we’re sick of hearing it and I just want to look to the future and stop being in the present,” she says. “I’m constantly asked on every carpet, in any interview, ‘What’s it like facing the adversity of the lack of women at radio?’ There are only so many answers I can give, so I decided to put it in an album answer.”

To celebrate “Girl” and her sophomore record, Morris will hit the road for her Girl: The World Tour. The trek, which begins May 3, will feature special guests Cassadee Pope and RaeLynn.

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Brett YoungAlbum Review - Brett Young: Ticket to L.A.

Brett Young has established himself as one of country music’s fastest rising newcomers with his ability to explore heartbreak in the form of a compelling ballad. But his latest project, Ticket to L.A., finds him with a more optimistic mindset while still delivering that same powerful emotion.

Typically pulling from real life heartache to tell a story, Young takes on a different artistic approach, opening the album with a title track that imagines a sweet love story between two strangers who strike up a brief romance before they go their separate ways. From there, Young delivers on his promise that the album would incorporate the soul influence that was crucial to his musical upbringing, particularly on “Where You Want Me.” The song serves as a strong representation of how even when Young is singing about heartbreak, he cuts through the bitterness by adding a positive element. “You look at love like a race, and once you’ve won, you’re done…you got me where you want me, but baby you don’t want me no more,” he croons, following a heartbroken man to his lover’s doorstep to confess his unfiltered emotions, yet is still faced with rejection. But the soothing melody composed of soulful electric guitar and piano makes the sentiment feel less painful. This same notion applies to “Used to Missin’ You” where he uses an endearing melody to balance the luckless feeling of not being able to let go of a past love.

While Brett Young establishes a rejuvenated sound at the top of the album, the true signs of his growth are in the defining moments embedded in the latter half of the project. “Chapters” is one of these moments. Young calls on his friend and confidant Gavin DeGraw to help tell the story of his life, reflecting on the important events that define his journey. He tenderly sings of the impact his father had on him growing up, “every boy wants to be like his father, in Little League, when he was coaching me, I was hanging on every word,” before admitting that his body knew more than he did when an injury ended his path to playing professional baseball. The song’s message culminates in sage words of advice from DeGraw, who recognizes that it takes time to find one’s purpose. The song puts Young in a position of maturity, allowing him to reflect on his personal milestones and missteps, exhibiting a distinct vulnerability.

He displays similar qualities on “The Ship and the Bottle,” where he swallows his pride to let someone go for the sheer purpose of allowing them to grow. “You just might have to break me to do what you’re meant to do,” Young shares in a message of unselfishness rarely conveyed in a breakup song, making for one of the album’s most empathetic moments.

Brett Young brings the album back to where he started with “Don’t Wanna Write This Song,” a somber ballad that yet again puts Young in the position of having to pick up the broken remnants of a relationship. While the reasons for the separation weren’t as dire as the breakup itself, he can’t help but longingly express “how can I just move on, I’ve loved you for way too long,” bringing the album to a moving, cinematic close.

Ticket to L.A. still feels like an authentic Brett Young album, while signifying his progression in sound and maturity. Though the first half of the album is mainly comprised of love songs tailor made for country radio, Young finds a way to inject emotion and reflection, combing the two characteristics that make him one of country music’s most honest artists.

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Carrie UnderwoodThe 2018 CMA Awards: The Moments That Will Have Everyone Talking

From jaw-dropping performances to moving speeches and killer collaborations, the 2018 CMA Awards did not disappoint. Here’s our list of memorable moments from the evening.

TR Brings His Song to ‘Life’

Thomas Rhett’s latest single “Life Changes” came visibly to life during a spirited performance. Kicking off the song onstage in a makeshift dorm room, the singer brought the audience back to his college days where he had a “notebook full of bad songs I was writing.” Moments later, he left the set to find himself alongside a horn section and by the time the song’s chorus hit, Brentwood’s Ravenwood High School Marching Band joined in. As he walked past his wife seated in the crowd and gave her a hug, he got visibly choked up while singing of the day he “told my Daddy and Mama you’re gonna have a grandkid from Uganda.” TR’s “Life Changes” performance brought all the feels and standout musicianship to boot. –AR

Lauren Alaina Schools Us All

Lauren Alaina may have only sang a snippet of Dottie West’s “A Lesson In Leavin'” in honor of the late singer’s induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but it ranks among one of the night’s best performances. Before cameras even panned to Alaina, who was wearing a stunning purple gown on stage, viewers were captivated by her mesmerizing vocals. With a belt that would make West proud, Alaina once again proved her staying power. We just wish they would have kept her on air longer. –AR

Carrie Brings the Love

Carrie Underwood’s performance of her impactful new single “Love Wins” was an ethereal dream. As if her mesmerizing vocals weren’t inspiring enough, the backdrop engulfed the stage in a tapestry of colors that helped bring her lyrics to life. “In these trying times, we need to hear that love wins,” Brad Paisley said when he introduced his friend’s performance. Underwood’s hopeful message inspired, and backed by singers that embodied that of a gospel choir, “Love Wins” was a standout moment. At the close of the song, Underwood and her choir lifted their hands up in the air in unison to form hearts — once again bringing the song’s poignant point home.-AR

Midland Pays Tribute to The Bandit

There was perhaps no better trio to pay homage to one of the South’s most beloved anti-heroes than Midland. The “Drinking Problem” performers took to the stage in tribute to the late Burt Reynolds by way of an arena-rocking rendition of “East Bound and Down,” the theme from Reynolds’ beloved 1977 classic “Smokey and the Bandit.” Lead Singer Mark Wystrach’s mustache and sunglasses could have been tribute enough, but the rollicking performance–complete with footage from the film and split screen guitar battles–had the crowd on their feet for a standing ovation. A reaction that would have made the show-off-loving Bandit proud. –AA

Kacey is the Golden Girl

As Little Big Town tore open the envelope with the name of the Album of the Year winner inside, Karen Fairchild uttered a hint as to its contents. Noting the win was for “all the little girls writing songs out there,” she announced Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour for the win. Musgraves took the stage in her custom Versace suit–a modern take on the Texas style that has influenced her entire career–and thanked her family, colleagues and husband (Ruston Kelly) and her adopted hometown. “Ten years ago today I moved to Nashville,” she said before adding of the album: “We poured everything that we have into this and I’m so proud of it. I’m inspired by this beautiful universe and most of all love.” Later in the show Musgraves channeled Crystal Gayle meets American Bandstand realness with a soft and sultry performance of “Slow Burn” from the album, complete with lens flaring spotlights, a red curtain (and red velvet slip dress) and acoustic guitar.-AA

The Softer Side of FGL

Florida Georgia Line teamed up with Bebe Rexha to perform their 50-week No. 1 hit “Meant to Be” and it was one of the most surprising moments of the night. Instead of bringing the original version continually heard on pop and country stations throughout 2018 to the stage, the duo dramatically switched gears. Dressed in white from head to toe, FGL’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard kicked off the pared down track. When it was time for Rexha’s verse, she appeared like an apparition beside a white upright piano and the dance track immediately transformed into a powerful ballad, complete with a string section. Whether intentional or not, it felt a fitting way to put a period on the exclamatory year the song has had. –AR

Garth’s Love Song

Garth Brooks debuted a brand new song during the show and it was one of the most heartfelt moments of the night. Titled “Stronger Than Me,” he dedicated the touching ballad to his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and it had all the workings of a wedding song. Alone with his acoustic guitar in hand, Brooks praised his bride for being “stronger than me.” “I know I always thought I had to have the answers / Be her strength and take the leap / When it comes to anything that really matters / You’re stronger than me,” he sang as his wife looked on with tears in her eyes. “If I had a choice I’d pray to God he takes me first /’Cause you’re stronger than me,” he conceded. In an arena full of people, it was as if they were the only two in the room.- AR

Soul Patrol

Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris, Mavis Staples, Marty Stuart and Morgane Stapleton took Bridgestone Arena to church during an inspired performance. They kicked the set off with “Friends,” a track featured on Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 1, originally recorded by Pops Staples. The all-star collaboration highlighted each singer’s powerful and soulful vocals. While Staples’ guttural belt had the audience screaming along, Morris held her own on the song with her sultry take. Following “Friends,” the group continued with a spirited performance of “I’ll Take You There.” Backed by a gospel choir and horn section, the performance transcended the awards show to a higher power and brought the house down. – AR

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