Maren Morris

"Can I get a hallelujah, can I get an amen?" sings Texas-born, Nashville-dwelling Maren Morris on "My Church," the lead single from her self-titled LP. Though "sing," however, might not be the most appropriate verbiage – she belts, more like it, in her dynamic range that can growl soulfully one moment and twangily howl the next. It's an honest performance from an artist and writer who stands out for the singular point of view, sheer creativity and fearless approach to music she's developed since she began performing and writing as a young child. Using the boldest colors from across many genres as her palate and country as her canvas, Morris' stories are vivid paintings that can be gleefully fun, tearfully heartbreaking and a perfect balance of modern and timeless.

At barely twenty, she moved to Nashville, leaving behind a resume that boasted three hits on the Texas Music Chart: and while many arrive in town with a dream of their name in lights, resting on the marquees of the biggest and brightest venues, Morris simply wanted to work on her songwriting craft. And it's not that she didn't have aspirations as a performer – Morris had actually already logged years doing just that. But being a celebrity wasn't the goal – spending her days and nights in the writing room, working with as many cowriters as possible and composing hundreds of songs, was. And though she'd only play the occasional local gig at first, she still managed to build an audience based on her sheer talent, honest lyrics and a completely magnetic presence. Small shows led to big opening gigs: for Little Big Town, Sam Hunt, Loretta Lynn and Chris Stapleton.

Along the way, she slowly and carefully started building the bones to her career as a performer again. "It wasn't a conscious decision to be an artist," she says. "It was more, am I ready to face my point of view? I would have been happy just being a songwriter, but there was a voice in my head saying, you've got to sing these."

And so she did. Her self-titled EP gives a hint to what her forthcoming major-label debut on Sony Music Nashville will hold: and that's one of the more inventive and engaging perspectives in country music to come along in years. The charts and critics agree – she entered the Billboard Heatseeker's chart at number one, has been wracking up millions of spins on Spotify and was named one of Rolling Stone Country's Artists You Need to Know. Because few could find themselves drawing fans of both Bruno Mars and Bonnie Raitt, but Morris could – taking them to the special, wildly different world where spirituality comes through the FM dial and the stage is a place both to party and pray.

"The best part has been going off the beaten path," Morris says. "I love to weed whack, and create something new. That's when I feel most alive." Amen to that.

As one of the newest additions to Universal Music Publishing Group's powerhouse roster, Ryan Hurd's songwriting accomplishments are astonishing. His catalogue is a brand of versatile and relatable music drawn from personal experience and a wandering imagination. His growing musical influences are as diverse as his writing, and include many Nashville hit-makers as well as indie songwriting stalwarts. He is a Kalamazoo Michigan native as well as a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

"One of my earliest memories of music is my Dad and his three brothers singing barbershop songs in a quartet," he says. Hurd's family was instrumental in laying his musical foundation. His mother, a talented pianist, encouraged her son to play piano and learn to read music. The years of lessons paid off in an unexpected way—they had piqued his interest in writing new songs instead of learning old ones. "The stories are important, but they aren't necessarily the most important part if the listener doesn't feel anything. I try to write a feeling more than anything else."

In his first year at UMPG, Ryan secured a cut on Jake Owen's Endless Summer EP. Since then, Ryan has become one of Nashville's most promising young songwriters landing cuts such as The Swon Brothers' "Later On", Rascal Flatts' "Payback", Blake Shelton's "Lonely Tonight" and Tim McGraw's "Last Turn Home".

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