Maren Morris and Ruthie Foster at the Granada Theater, DallasFLICKR/DAVE HENSLEY (

Originally hailing from Arlington, Texas, Maren Morris has made a name for herself across the Atlantic as perhaps the biggest country-pop star to emerge in the latter half of the 2010s, with two eclectic albums – 2016’s platinum-selling Hero and 2019’s Girl – landing her both awards and radio play aplenty.

However, a number of Morris’s recent hits and pokes at the Nashville establishment on social media have seen her seemingly begin to distance herself from country music: “The Middle”, her smash collab with Zedd, hit the top 5 on the Billboard charts in 2018 and became an unavoidable staple of pop radio internationally, while her 2019 solo single “The Bones” held onto the top spot on the US country charts for a record-breaking 19 weeks, despite – or perhaps because – it sounded like it had been ripped directly from a pop playlist.

“A turn back towards the traditional country sound that she grew up on”

In between her moments of chart domination, however, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Maren Morris has been dipping her toes cautiously into the alt-country scene, even if she has thus far resisted stepping out of the mainstream. Most notably, in 2019 she joined forces with some lesser-known alt-country artists to form an all-female supergroup, the Highwomen, and together they created collaborative album which struck a winning mix by being both lyrically progressive and traditional in sound.

It wasn’t entirely a surprise, then, when Morris announced in January of 2022 that her third major-label album – Humble Quest – would be taking something of a turn back towards the traditional country sound that she grew up on. However, the bland lead single “Circles Around This Town”, which just scraped its way into the top 10 of the Hot Country Songs Chart in February, was a somewhat underwhelming introduction to this new era.

Thematically, the song is a page torn straight from Maren Morris’s autobiography, in which she describes her first months in Nashville, a time which she spent driving around the city in search of musical inspiration. Sonically, however, it doesn’t quite live up to the theme: the single is too restrained to become the anthem it yearns to be, and so it finds itself perched uncomfortably in the blank space between catchy and entirely forgettable.

Thankfully, the rest of Humble Quest has more to offer. Musically, it isn’t traditional country by any definition, but it’s certainly a much more muted take on country-pop by an artist known for her varied influences and brash wordplay – previous hooks include “Shit, I’d be rich” and “I’m a 90s baby in my 80s Mercedes”. And, for the most part, this album is held together cleanly by Maren Morris’s effortless charisma and knack for selling a hook.

“Humble Quest proves to be a cohesive album filled to the brim with passion and ambition”

Most of Humble Quest was written during Morris’s struggles with post-partum depression and the loss of her close friend and former producer, Busbee, and the album is layered with shadows of doubt, pain, and self-interrogation as a result. This creates a deeply affecting and interesting listen at times, and indeed, there are some true highlights here: the title track is a catchy and excellently produced piece of adult contemporary-slash-country music all by itself, and “Background Music”, a self-aware love song which touchingly ruminates on the limitations of human love and life, might well be the best song Maren has written and released to date.

Where “Tall Guys”, a light-hearted ode to her singer-songwriter husband Ryan Heard, fails to hit the mark, the country-pop track “I Can’t Love You Anymore” – which she and Heard recently performed together at the CMT Awards – succeeds, and then some. A heart-warming ode to their relationship, it’ll likely find its way onto country radio at some point soon, especially after the public lapped up the couple’s vanilla duet “Chasing After You” with delight last year, pushing it to the top 3 on the country charts.


Mountain View

“Adele at her most confident”: 30 album review

Elsewhere, Morris sings about her son on “Hummingbird”, about new relationships on “Nervous”, and offers up a poignant ballad in memory of Busbee as the album’s closing track: “What would this world do?” The latter of these is a difficult listen, and Morris noted, quite understandably, that she will probably never perform it live, but that she is glad to have been able to release to honour his memory.

Overall, Humble Quest proves to be a cohesive album filled to the brim with passion and ambition, but despite it sitting at less than 40 minutes in length, it’s still padded out with far more filler than it needs. That said, the project is an interesting step forwards in the career of an exceptionally versatile artist who still proves impossible for the country mainstream to pin down, and the standout moments here hint at even greater things to come from her in the future.