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A COMPLICATED VALENTINE FROM RYAN AND MAREN

A guitar evokes Brooke Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia.” A shimmer and shudder suggest hesitant desire. By the time Ryan Hurd tumbles into the opening “You come over when your wine’s all gone,” it’s obvious that “Chasing After You” (Arista Nashville) is going to be the kind of love song where an erotic tension results from knowing the other is never completely there.

“Always catch me when I’m not that strong, then you wind up staying all night long” comes the follow-up revelation from a man who can’t quit, even knowing the inevitable truth of surrender. His voice a little porous, a little pliant, Hurd becomes every everyman who’s ever loved a woman he can’t quite possess. He quivers a bit on a few notes, teetering on what she said and inhaling the reality of the moment, understanding what’s coming—and what’s coming after that.

“Chasing After You” was written by Jerry Flowers and Brinley Addington, who provide the kind of vulnerability Keith Urban has built a career on. It’s a fool’s game, the sort of quandary even grown-ups face when they find that one love they can’t quite extinguish. On the verge of Valentine’s Day, Hurd and country femmepowerment superstar Maren Morris, who also happens to be his wife, untangle the complications of a stop/start relationship with a hunger that transcends the merely carnal.

After Hurd confesses that he knows why his “answer’s always yes,” no matter how deep the conversation or the sleep, it’s only a matter of time before Morris’ aching tenor rises, offering the other side of this cruel attraction; a gently whispered “Listen” opens into an admission of her own falter, “Wish I could quit you, but it feels so good/ If I could turn it off, you know I would.”

A conflicted booty call? Heart’s “Magic Man” for the soul/country set? There’s something about the velvet that caresses the steam in Morris’ delivery that suggets it’s more than too much lonely and chardonnay. Whatever it is—and amid these pandemic blues, it could be anything—here she is. And then, she intones smokily, “Something ’bout you makes me think/ We could make it after all.”

Anyone who’s ever walked away multiple times knows the hope they started with, the notion that “this is the one.” And then there’s the sex, which the body craves no matter what the heart or the head tells you. This is a genre that’s portrayed adult entanglements with Razzy Bailey’s “She Left Love All Over Me,” T.G. Sheppard’s “Slow Burn” and Conway Twitty’s Teddy Pendergrass-challenging “I’d Love to Lay You Down”/“Between Blue Eyes and Jeans”/“I’ve Already Loved You in My Mind” oeuvre, not to mention his blush-inducing take on The Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand,” so it shouldn’t be too surprising that meaningful coupling in today’s Nashville has been MIA.

Hurd and Morris do not flinch, however; the “Michigan for the Winter”/“Every Other Memory” singer/songwriter and the Grammy winner/2020 Country Music Association Female/Album/Single/Song sweeper bring it.

But don’t imagine a George ’n’ Tammy play for the East Nashville set or a 21st-century Tim & Faith throwdown; Hurd and Morris met writing songs, fell in love as their careers moved in adult-alternative and power-country directions and it’s their musical commonality that defines them as a couple. And with Morris always seeking to expand her kind of country (think “The Middle” with Zedd and Grey and her work with The Highwomen, JP Saxe, Hozier, Niall Horan and Brothers Osborne), “Chasing After You” suggests a thirst in country music that’s got nothing to do with longnecks or 100 proof.

Just as importantly, “Chasing After You” demonstrates Hurd’s reedy tenor, emotive (if less glistening than Vince Gill’s) and yearning in very palpable ways. He comes off as a man strong enough to give in, able to withstand whatever comes next and—thought most likely she’ll be gone again—hoping for the day she’ll stay.

Nothing is certain, of course, so he’ll take what he can get. He sings a clarity punch in the chorus: “Leaving me standing here lonely, feeling like a fool,” Morris harmonizing on the reality-reckoning “Every time you say we’re done, you come back to the love you were running from.”

Beyond the bonfires, dip cups, pickup trucks, Daisy Dukes and parties, there’s real life. It’s messy, awkward and at times frustrating, but in truth, it’s where most good things actually happen. Listening to Hurd buckle—especially on the second verse, exhaling what he already knows and embracing it in the name of the long game—you’ll find that “Chasing After You” is more than the thrill of the hunt; it’s how we ultimately get the things that we want.

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