By Geoffrey Rowlands
More than a dozen singers recorded the female vocals for Zedd’s world-wide smash hit single, The Middle. These included massively popular artistes such as Camila Cabello, Demi Lovato and Carly Rae Jepsen. But it was a rather lesser known American country singer named Maren Morris who found herself selected for the finished version.
“I believe some of those other singers actually said they didn’t want to be on the song,” remarked 28-year-old Maren. “An electro-dance number is obviously not my normal musical field. Some of the reviewers mentioned this, but were generally very kind about my performance.
“I loved doing the song. Zedd was great to work with and so easy-going. It felt like we’d been working together for years rather than this being the first time.
“I’m always looking to push my personal musical boundaries, but I didn’t think The Middle really took me too far. It’s not a massively uptempo dance track. The song is a little bit pop, some R&B and even a little bit of country so it reflected my numerous influences as an artiste. It’s also relatable, emotional and immediately catchy. I thought there were no limits with the song and this has proved true.”
Although Maren was largely unknown on the international music market, the last two years have seen her star rise dramatically on the US country music scene. She had released three previous albums all of which made no impression on the charts. But Maren’s 2016 major label debut LP, Hero, hit number one on the Top Country Albums chart and reached number five on the Billboard 200. It also spawned three big hit singles on the Hot Country Songs chart.
“It probably sounds silly now, but I hadn’t intended to be an artiste. This wasn’t so when I was a child. If my parents had a karaoke machine at family parties, I’d belt out Patsy Cline or LeAnn Rimes songs all night.
“My dad bought me a guitar when I was 12. I took to it immediately. I now had the means to turn the stories and poems I’d been writing into songs.
“I became a good enough guitarist to actually perform. I come from Arlington, Texas, and started playing all over the state. I’d play any bar or club that would let me in. I was the only kid in school who had a job at weekends.”
Having built a solid following on the Texas country music circuit, Maren moved to Nashville, Tennessee, when she was 20. But she entered the home of country music with no aspirations to perform. Her ambition was to become a songwriter.
“I wanted to work with as many co-writers as possible. Along the way, I co-wrote hundreds of songs and built lasting friendships with those co-writers who I particularly enjoyed working with.”
Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson were among the major artistes who recorded Maren’s songs. But there was still a part of her which wanted the songs to be performed exactly as she would wish.
This led to Maren playing the occasional local gig. As word about her spread, the small venues became larger and the gigs more frequent. Then came the offers to open for prominent stars. Maren was sharing the bill with artists such as Little Big Town, Sam Hunt, Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton.
“I would have been happy to remain as a songwriter. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to perform again. There was just this voice in my head which kept telling me I had to sing my songs.”
Maren’s self-titled 2015 EP paved the way for her chart-topping success with Hero. The EP reached number 22 on the Top Country Albums chart and peaked at number 96 on the Billboard 200.
“I’d put out the EP on Spotify before getting my record deal with Columbia Nashville. It registered more than two and a half million streams in a month and three of the tracks made Spotify’s US and Global Viral 50 charts. This was what attracted the interest of record labels.”
The success of Hero and lead single, My Church, saw Maren receive a string of prestigious award nominations. She was the most-nominated country music artist at the 2017 Grammy awards winning the Best Country Solo Performance category. Other notable triumphs were being named New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, New Female Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards and Best New Country Artist at the Radio Disney Music Awards.
Most of last year was spent on the road either with her own Hero Tour or in partnership with Sam Hunt on his 15 in a 30 Tour. Maren also released Dear Hate, a song she wrote and recorded with Vince Gill, in response to the Las Vegas Strip shooting. All proceeds were donated to the Music City Cares Fund.
But 2017 also marked Maren’s engagement to fellow country artiste Ryan Hurd. The couple were married this past March.
“All the co-writing really paid off big time for me. I met Ryan in 2013 when we co-wrote Last Turn Home for Tim McGraw. This began a great writing partnership and a wonderful friendship but it was two more years before we began dating.
“There was always this amazing chemistry between us and our foundation as a couple was in writing so many songs together. We finally thought, why are we avoiding a romantic relationship? Ryan is so special. I couldn’t be happier.”
Gwen Stefani/Blake Shelton
Although marriage may not figure in their immediate future, Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton certainly seem to be a happy couple.
The two singer/songwriters hail from very different musical backgrounds. Country star Blake didn’t even know what ska was until Gwen introduced him to her style of music. But if he was unfamiliar with her sound, Blake certainly knew Gwen’s face before they got together.
“He dated a girl for three months who had pictures of me plastered all over her bedroom,” Gwen laughed. “It’s kind of weird that Blake and I should have ended up together after that.
“Blake is like a musical jukebox. He likes a lot of different stuff. But the place where we really meet is at soft rock love songs from the 1970s. He was amazed to learn Bread were one of my favourite groups ever.
“We have to agree to disagree on ska though. I put together a ska and reggae playlist for Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago. Blake gave it a listen but wasn’t too impressed.”
Florence + The Machine
Florence + The Machine’s fourth studio album, High As Hope, is set for release on June 29. Their first three albums all topped the UK chart while their last LP, 2015’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, also hit number one on the Billboard 200.
Florence issued Sky Full of Song for last month’s Record Store Day. The accompanying video can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1TSiB9OuVM
But Hunger is the official lead single from High As Hope. The track is available now while the music video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GHXEGz3PJg
“The song is deeply personal,” Florence said of Hunger. “There is just this feeling sometimes that you’re not good enough and have to be perfect. It started when I was a teenager and is still with me now.”
Canadian superstar Celine Dion has issued her first English language single since 2016’s Recovering. The song, Ashes, is taken from the soundtrack of anti-hero movie, Deadpool 2, which goes on general release this week.
It was Deadpool himself, otherwise actor Ryan Reynolds, who wrote to Celine asking if she would like to be part of his “masterpiece.”
“Over the years, I’ve received incredible songs and been involved in fun projects,” Celine remarked. “Ashes is one of those songs and Deadpool 2 is off the charts.”
The accompanying video was shot in The Colosseum at Caesars Palace where Celine stages her Las Vegas residency. It also features some clips from the film and sees Deadpool perform a dance around Celine.
As emotive as the song may be, the end of the video shows that everything should not be taken too seriously. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CX11yw6YL1w.
Two official trailers have been released for Deadpool 2. The first is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=D86RtevtfrA while the second is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=20bpjtCbCz0
Longer trailers can also be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGeEMTYZiZg, www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g7whpsb0pk and www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhH4L7Zmack brief
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