Maren Morris released “Humble Quest,” her third major-label album, in March. A collection of hooky, inviting pop songs marked by warmth and gentleness of spirit, it came about from two intense years — she had her first baby with her husband-slash-collaborator Ryan Hurd in March 2020, as the pandemic was just starting. “Humble Quest,” which she began work on shortly after giving birth, is Morris writing, and singing, her way out of those hard times.
“I didn’t want to make a pandemic album,” she says via phone ahead of her show Friday at Leader Bank Pavilion. “I literally needed to write songs to pull me out of whatever depressive funk I was in. This album is the result of those sort-of therapy sessions — but I don’t feel like it’s dwelling on the negative too much. It was more like a tonic for the times, instead of having to be so close and documenting [them].”
“Humble Quest” is a luminous collection of songs that takes Morris’s country-music songwriting chops and expands on them in surprising ways. “I Can’t Love You Anymore” is a sweetly enamored cut that turns the conceit of its title on its head, with Morris not lamenting but instead enthusing over a relationship’s pleasures (morning coffee, emotional support), her voice framed by a dobro, handclaps, and some saucy honky-tonk pianos. “Good Friends” is a slowly blossoming ode to platonic companionship with an infectious chorus, while the tension-filled “Nervous” opens with quivering guitars before exploding into a feisty country-rock chorus.
The album continues Morris’s carving out her own space in pop music, one that was already set by her two previous albums, 2016′s “Hero” and 2019′s “GIRL,” as well as her robust vocal on the omnipresent 2018 electropop single “The Middle.”
“Humble Quest” was produced by pop guru Greg Kurstin, who boasts a long, varied, and very successful resume. “Very few producers can say they’ve worked with Adele and Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney and Kendrick Lamar and then me,” Morris laughs.
Working at Kurstin’s studio in Hawaii allowed Morris to disentangle herself from any expectations about what “Humble Quest” should sound like. “We were able to make this record the way it sounds because we weren’t adhering to any agenda,” she says. “I think that’s the first time, probably since my first record, that I felt where I was just making music that I loved, and I wasn’t worried in the back of my head about ‘Will this single be worthy for country radio?’ It was just about having fun in the studio with Greg.”
One standout track on Humble Quest is “Hummingbird,” which Morris wrote the day she found out she was pregnant with her now-2-year-old son. It’s a windswept ode to being a mother that, on the album, opens with Morris and her son melodically saying “Mama” back and forth — an engaging opening to a richly metaphoric song.
Morris’s son’s cameo came about early one morning, when she was getting a voice memo version of “Hummingbird” ready for Kurstin, while she was on her porch with her son. “At the time, when I was sending Greg songs, Hayes was 1, so he was starting to say ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’ and a few other words,” she recalls. “I just pulled my phone out and recorded him saying ‘Mama’ one morning — if you listen really closely, you can hear the birds in the background, because we were outside. I sent it to Greg and I was like, ‘Could we weave this in somewhere in the song?’ He ended up sending it back to me with that [recording] at the very beginning, and I loved it.”
This tour gives Morris — backed by her band who, she says, are “the best they’ve ever sounded” — the chance to see how her songs will land amid live audiences, a prospect that gives her a flash of excitement. “I made [these songs] during a pandemic and I didn’t get to really road-test any of them beforehand — I just put them out,” she says. “There are certain songs where I think, ‘Oh my God, I love this song, but will a crowd love this?’ When I play ‘Background Music,’ I’m always wondering, ‘This is quite a ballad — will this resonate with people live?’
“But every night it’s been one of the crowd favorites,” she notes of the slow-dance vocal showcase. “You just see people losing themselves in a really beautiful way — they’re not crowd-surfing or jumping up and down. They’re blissed out and enjoying the actual music. We don’t have a video wall or any [elaborate] set production; it’s just lighting and utilizing the natural elements. It’s nice to just be outside under the stars to this album. I’m glad that it’s worked out this way.”
Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Brent Cobb. At Leader Bank Pavilion. July 8, 8 p.m. 617-728-1600, livenation.com