Maren Morris' Girl album is not short on ambition. The "Girl" singer challenges her fans, her critics and most importantly herself across a 14-song collection that's best described as exclusive.

That's a word with several connotations that apply to Morris' themes on Girl (March 8), her second studio album on Sony Music Nashville. At times she's literally letting you know of a line in the sand. “Not everybody gets what we’re going through, but all my favorite people do,” she sings on "All My Favorite People" — a lively jam with Brothers Osborne.

"Flavor" is one of three "woke" songs found on Side A of the album. Over a provocative mix of loops, electric guitar and ethereal effects, she makes a vision statement:

“Even if you don’t like it / I bet you won’t forget / There’s always one or two / Pushing on the envelope / So I’m gonna raise a glass to you / If you’re one of those.”

The 28-year-old Texan is one of those, and for most of this album she leads the listener to these opportunities. The title track is an inspiration for those who need help with insecurities (i.e. every single person on Earth) and "Common" — a signature song on Girl — questions inequalities in society in ways that are smart, melodic, thought-provoking and most-importantly, artful. Morris matches collaborator Brandi Carlile's power on this made-for-an-awards-show pairing. Someone please bring these two to a televised stage soon!

If there's a criticism of Girl, it's that until "To Hell & Back" (her most "country" cut and an easy single), the soundscape lacks an open invitation. "Great Ones" is an example. The overconfident love ballad suggests a reason love doesn't last is because it's simply not strong enough, and that's a reach at this stage in Morris' life and marriage. The personal and detailed "Gold Love" follows, but both are sister songs to the far superior "The Bones," a song that makes it easy to apply your own love story.

Sony Music Nashville

But before you get to the generous songs that close Girl, it's worth appreciating a few examples of how Morris has evolved musically. "The Feels" is delightfully playful, and "RSVP" is astonishingly sexy. “All you gots to bring is loving / Cause I ain’t wearing nothing, nothing you can’t take off me," she sings during the club-friendly jam. Later it's “This floor is waiting for my black dress to fall / Somewhere in the hall / So don’t take too long.” 

Both explore territory she may not have been ready to enter on Hero (2013). "Good Woman" — one of a surprising number of orchestral arrangements on Girl — may touch on where she's headed next. During this next-to-last song on the album she's truly vulnerable, perhaps even submissive as a wife. That's tough to reconcile upon first listens, but her yearning to show this softer side comes during a volley of songs that allow air and interpretation more than anything she's cut previously. The velvet rope drops as she leads us to — perhaps — where she's going next. That's a fascinating proposal because Morris is the woman to lead the country music genre if she keeps being intentional with her evolution as an artist.

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