It can be easy to forget that Maren Morris is much further along in her career than her age might suggest.
The Grammy-winning 31-year-old singer-songwriter has been making music for more than half of her life.The hard-earned wisdom she’s accrued along the way informs and enriches every track on Humble Quest, the Arlington native’s third major label effort and sixth studio LP overall.
The bruising reality of staying atop the music business is right there in the lyrics of “Circles Around This Town,” Quest’s opening track and its lead single: “I’ve been kind and I’ve been ruthless/Yeah, I got here but the truth is/Thought when I hit it, it’d all look different.”
What’s most satisfying about Morris’s latest record is that it gently steers back into her core strengths. Quest undoes some of the unabashedly pop swings her last effort, 2019’s Girl, reveled in to middling effect. That’s not to say the pop idiom doesn’t suit her superb voice — she can belt a slick Top 40 hook with the best of ‘em — but that Quest finds an ideal balance between pop gloss, folk grit and country ‘tude.
Morris also makes plain that while she may physically reside in Nashville, her eclectic music continues to travel far afield from what purists might categorize as country. Her talents are such that she’ll be comfortable in any genre, but much like Taylor Swift, and many others before her, it’s a question of when, not if, Morris makes a clean creative break from Music City.
Produced by noted pop hitmaker Greg Kurstin, Humble Quest finds Morris confidently toggling between smoldering (“Nervous” feels like a sizzling update of “I Wish I Was” from her major label debut, Hero) and smirking (“Tall Guys” is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to her husband, singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, who shares writing credit on four of 11 tracks here).
Quest contains hints about how Morris might navigate the next phase of her career, particularly toward the album’s conclusion.: The gorgeous “Hummingbird” is a minor-key ballad that stands in stark contrast to much of what comes before it, and it casts Morris’s vibrant alto in a fragile light.
The significance of Humble Quest is that it acknowledges Morris as an artist who will not stop searching, no matter the heights she reaches: “No, I still haven’t found it yet,” she sings on the album’s title track. She understands, better than most, that what matters is the journey, not the destination.
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor for KXT. Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.