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Morris leaves the fold

House of Blues, Anaheim, Cal., March 28, 2019

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Taylor Swift kept coming to mind during Maren Morris' concert. Not because she sounds all that much like Swift, but because she appears to be traveling along a similar artistic path. Morris, who has won awards as a country singer, also had a number one pop hit with Zedd and Grey for "The Middle," and her second album "GIRL" sounds to being aiming for the same audience that embraced her big crossover hit.

Although it's not the litmus test for country music stylistic credibility, seemingly nobody in this sold out crowd was wearing a cowboy hat and/or cowboy boots. Whereas, outside the venue for a recent Dierks (far more country) Bentley concert, women lined up wearing their uniform daisy dukes - and it was raining! Once again, not proof positive; just a strong indicator that Morris' audience was not there to see her sing country music.

Morris' new direction is a bit of shame, though, because she's so compelling whenever singing quieter, more acoustic songs. "I Could Use a Love" song created a soft, touching moment, while "A Song for Everything" was both gentle and relatable - especially for diehard music fans. Morris closed her show with "My Church," a song that expresses a religious fervor-like love for classic country music. However, most of Morris' concert selections, like the bouncy "Flavor," sounded more club than church.

This not to say Morris' 'flavors' weren't without merit, however. The moody opener and title track, "GIRL," started the show on an arresting note, and "The Feels" offered truth in advertising feel good soul music. It was equally enjoyable to watch opener Cassadee Pope trade verses on the twangy guitar rocker "All My Favorite People." Although not particularly country, no two songs sounded the same, at least.

One also came away with the impression that this would be the last time we'll see Morris in a club-like setting for some time. Morris started her set by descended a large staircase, a prop more common for stadium shows, and was dressed in a sparkly, showy short-short outfit. Her band was a standard rock group, without any distinctly country instrumentation, such as fiddle and steel guitar.

Pope opened this show with an equally pop-leaning set. Normally, a song like Pope's cover of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" would stand out during a country singer's performance. However, this song didn't sound all that different from the rest of Pope's selections. Pope was at her best when she strapped on an acoustic guitar to sing her single "If My Heart Had a Heart."

It's sad to see an artist like Morris with so much country music potential, leave the fold for the pop realm. With mainstream country radio embracing so few female artists, though, can you really blame her? Women do extremely well in pop these days, and Morris likely sees greener pastures there.

This largely female audience appeared to know Morris' "GIRL" album well, even though it has only been out for a short while. She obviously has a loyal following. If she can make the same tight audience connection Taylor Swift has created over the years, Morris' future is, indeed, bright. Now, if we could only convince her to spend a little more time in that country church.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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