Maren Morris, “Girl” (Columbia)
Next year, Morris isn’t going home empty-handed. That’s the impression you get from her new album, which arrives after she left last month’s Grammys with no prizes despite five nominations.
A slick, knowing blend of country music and pop, “Girl” feels like Morris’ clear response to Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” which took the Grammy for album of the year.
I don’t mean to downplay Morris’ established reputation as a Nashville synthesizer. “Hero,” her excellent 2016 major-label debut, used R&B-inspired vocal runs and beats borrowed from hip-hop to present a picture of a young artist naturally in touch with how music works in the internet era.
Where “Hero” had an effortless quality, though, “Girl” seems awfully strategized, which ends up squeezing much of the life from Morris’ stuff.
Last time her songs veered in truly unexpected directions; here the arrangements (coproduced by Morris with Greg Kurstin and Busbee) are merely cycling through sounds on the way to some streaming-service singularity.
And though she insists in “Flavor” that she “ain’t gonna water down my words,” that’s often what appears to have happened. Just listen to “Common,” a would-be feel-good duet with Brandi Carlile in which Morris — such a funny and ribald presence on “Hero” — sings about unity and humanity.
Morris’ personality manages to peek through occasionally on “Girl,” and each time it’s when she seems lost in her own thoughts, far from any consideration of the music business in a post-genre era.
“Make Out With Me” is an old-school soul song, presumably addressed to her husband (whom she married last year), with the album’s strongest singing; “RSVP” puts across the same idea with the beautifully unembarrassed language of a couple of newlyweds.
Also laudable is “The Bones,” in which Morris, 28, compares a sturdy relationship to a house with a solid foundation — a potentially ungainly metaphor that she manages to sell: “When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter,” she sings. It’s good advice.
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times
2 Chainz, “Rap or Go to the League” (Def Jam)
In the mid-1990s when he was known as Tauheed Epps, 2 Chainz played two years of basketball for Alabama State University. That does give him more legit hoop cred than most rappers who pepper verses with references to their NBA pals. That might explain his relationship with LeBron James, who executive-produced 2 Chainz’s fifth and best album.
“NCAA,” which argues college athletes should get paid, is the only sports song, but James was involved in seeing to it that 2 Chainz put his best foot forward with consistency. Which he does, alongside an impressive list of collaborators including Young Thug, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Ariana Grande and Travis Scott.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Karen O and Danger Mouse, “Lux Prima”
• Snarky Puppy, “Immigrance”
• Stephen Malkmus, “Groove Denied”