Local song panel: Our thoughts on Maren Morris, Christopher Holt, the Speedlights, Zhora and Pleasant Grove

Our panel this week includes pop music critic Hunter Hauk, Art & Life features editor Erin Booke, Briefing editor Jamie Hancock, GuideLive’s Tiney Ricciardi, FD’s Christopher Mosley and News writer and editor Dawn Burkes. Agree? Disagree? Share and weigh in on Facebook or Twitter.

Maren Morris, “My Church”

She’s the latest in a line of Texan country chanteuses to get a big-label release — her self-titled EP is out now.

HH: I, too, feel those revival-style chills when I listen to my favorites in the car. So the premise for these lyrics hits home. Morris follows through with big country-gospel harmonies and an instantly familiar melody. Should please those soul-starved folks who’ve been singing the praises of Chris Stapleton.

CM: Morris takes what could be a really grating song and it makes it sound commercially palatable, at least. Here’s my issue with lyrical content of this nature: It’s too easy. Of course Hank and Cash are great; who’s going to dispute that? I would like to hear a country singer tout his or her love for a more obscure artist. How about a song about Sherri Jerrico or the Legendary Stardust Cowboy? If you’re going to stick your neck out for country, you need to really prove your genre loyalty.

TR: She sounds seasoned, I’ll give her that. Country’s not really my jam, but it’s hard not to like this song.

DB: Girl, preach.

EB: Oooh, now this is good. This reminds me of Sunday road trips on empty Texas highways with my grandparents. Can we stop for kolaches?

JH: Country has become my jam over the second half of my decade in Texas, so this takes me back when I saw Morris play to a small crowd in the West End. It was before I knew how great real country, like what Morris does, could be. Love her references to Hank and Johnny, showing she knows what style she’s going for and who’s in her “church.” I’m grooving in my chair. Amen!

The Speedlights, “Gotta Get Back to You”

The Speedlights are a new act featuring some Denton music veterans; they celebrate the release of their new self-titled EP on Friday at Dan’s Silver Leaf.

HH: Here’s a jaunty little rock tune, never too fussy or self-aware to be enjoyed. Starts and ends strong, opening with satisfying guitar lines and closing with a glumly delivered punchline. I’d bet these guys are fun live.

CM: I see all the comments here about the opening guitar technique and it’s true; it’s not what we’re used to hearing from local acts. It’s a little more ornate than most of the playing I hear on Dallas pop records. This only slips a bit when it attempts to rock, coming off like Cheap Trick’s attempt at Big Star for the That ‘70s Show theme. Don’t be Cheap Trick when you want to be Big Star. (That works much better than expected.)

TR: The opening notes of this song made me really excited; I really like that riff! Unfortunately, the rest of it feels formulaic. The vocals are a screechy for my taste, but sounds like the band has potential.

DB: It started out with an I-like-that head nod and then just kind of meandered. Or maybe I did. My attention went elsewhere.

EB: I like their vibe. This is a relaxed kind of fun.

JH: The cool opening riff had me fooled, too. I’m not a huge fan of the rhyming lyrics (too, you, do, etc.), but it’s cute. The guitarist has talent, and the last bit made me chuckle.

Zhora, “Rivers”

Dallas singer-songwriter Taylor Rea will celebrate her new Zhora EP on Dec. 19 at Off the Record.

HH: I like how some percussion fades away in the second verse and then comes rushing back with that chorus. Often, all I expect from a pop song like this is that it be catchy enough to keep humming after the song has ended. “Rivers” easily passes that test, and it also has the potential to be a solid stripped-down acoustic tune.

CM: There is a lot going on here; I feel like it could score a storm scene in a video game. As Hunter said, it does stay with you after it’s over. Taylor Rea was always the most redeemable quality of her former band, Ishi, and with her upcoming release, she is so far off in the distance you may as well stop squinting.

TR: I’m super impressed by this song. It’s balanced -- there’s not too much bass, not too many beats, no overextension of vocals. This tune speaks to how far Zhora has come as an independent artist.

DB: Her voice is nice enough and I think the track is designed for her voice -- and the listeners’ feet -- to get lost in it. Dance, I said.

EB: I like her voice, very pleasant, but she kind of gets lost in this kind of pop song.

JH: Ooh, nice. I like this little pop tune. It’s great club/dance music without being too “unts-unts-unts-unts,” if you know what I mean. And I like the faded-out repeating parts toward the end.

Pleasant Grove, “Lava”

The beloved local band will release its new album, The Heart Contortionists, in February.

HH: You can hear the angst and frustration balloon throughout the verses and then come to a head in the chorus. Pleasant Grove’s Marcus Striplin characterizes this new one as “a divorce record.” Hearing this, I’m inclined to believe him.

CM: I like the transition from the chorus back into the verse, it sounds like a band that’s been together for a long time, and they have. The Congleton recording style is similar to that Steve Albini school of allowing the listener to hear parts of a hi-hat that they never knew existed. That can be distracting, but it dissipates once all the distortion kicks in. There are plenty of similarly divorced Pleasant Grove fans who will welcome this with opens arms. I know a few.

TR: From the composition to the build to the harmonies and message, this song is a solid hit. It’s subtle yet powerful with the right amount of melody and fuzz that speak directly to my taste. Delish!

DB: Love the layers.

EB: Yeah, I totally get this song.

JH: I immediately started thinking, “Oh no, this song is going to be sad.” It’s cool how the band evoked that kind of emotion with just a few bars. And by the rocking, forceful, in-your-face end you feel the full extent of the angst Hunter referenced above.

Christopher Holt feat. Don Henley, "I'm Wasted"

Link: Stream it here

The beloved Dallas musician (who's been touring with Henley as part of the singer's band) has just released a new double album, Stargazer.

HH: I'm a sucker for songs that build, so I'm not surprised that my ears perked up more as the harmonies and percussion swelled up. If I were Holt, making my setlist for a solo show, I'd kick things off with this song. Nice tone-setter.

CM: This simple chord progression can't be improved upon by the melody, although there is a synthesizer sound (or perhaps a theremin) that is the song's best moment. Henley is barely there, but that's always been his philosophy when it comes to ballads. Is this a good time to bring up that his solo ballads ("Forgiveness," "The End of the Innocence") were better than anything the Eagles ever did?

TR: Judge by the track's title and you'll be deceived. This isn't a rowdy shot-slinging tune, but rather beautiful, mellow and heartfelt. It's breezy and bright, and yes that's me hitting 'replay.'

DB: Lighters up, arms linked, swaying started ... more melodious MMJ mood music.

EB: This was a nice song to listen to in the middle of the day, when I needed a reset. Very calming!

JH: This song had me right with the opening notes. I, too, love the way it builds and how the different tones are added. I almost wonder if it's designed that way to emphasize when Henley comes in. Wait for it...wait for it...it's Don!

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