Album Review – Maddie & Tae Make A Fantastic Debut With ‘Start Here’

Maddie & Tae Start Here

“Being the girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” This is the signature line of the song that introduced new country music duo Maddie & Tae to the world. If you’re a fan of country music, you have surely heard this bro country bashing song that catapulted Maddie & Tae into mainstream popularity. The duo, made up of Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye, are the brainchild of Big Machine Label Group’s fearless founder Scott Borchetta. While Borchetta has made his name by giving the world Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line, he’s earned his reputation to make a profit by offering something for pretty much every country fan out there. Look at Big Machine’s group of artists and you’ll surely find an act you enjoy. While I feel the majority of the artists he has served to the country music world have harmed the genre more than help it, Maddie & Tae may just be his greatest gift he has ever given the world. I’ve been waiting in anticipation for their debut album and it was set to come out originally in June, but unfortunately it was pushed back to now. But I’m happy to say it was well worth the wait because Maddie & Tae’s debut album Start Here is fantastic.

Start Here opens with “Waitin’ On A Plane.” Maddie & Tae do a lot of harmonizing on this inspirational and upbeat song. Much like their current single “Fly,” which is later in the album, this song is about chasing dreams and achieving goals. They sing about waiting for a plane, which symbolizes their chance to spread their wings and fly. It’s a very appropriate song for them and it shows how they’ve been waiting for this opportunity that’s been given to them and they’re ready to now capitalize on it. Next is their aforementioned smash hit and the single that put them on everyone’s radar, “Girl In A Country Song.” Over a year after reviewing it, this platinum certified single still holds up pretty well for me. Any song that throws shade at multiple bro country artists is great in my book. At the time I remember questioning (along with several others) if this was a wise song for Maddie & Tae to kick off their career with. After having a year to think about it, I can definitively say yes. And this album backs my sentiment up because it just gets even better as you go deeper into it.

“Smoke” is about a woman giving up on a man who is clearly bad for her, but she can’t seem to get rid of him from her mind. Just like smoking, it’s bad and something you shouldn’t breathe in, but she can’t help it. There’s lots of acoustic instrumentation throughout the song and it’s a love ballad that’s very catchy. It’s kind of got a different sound, but it’s very much country and a song that I think will grow on listeners with each listen. There are a lot of great songs throughout this album, but the one I enjoy the most is “Shut Up And Fish.” The song is about a girl going fish with a boy from the city who clearly hasn’t went fishing before. Right away though the girl realizes he has “more than bass” on his mind. He immediately starts to compliment her, touch her and flirt and just full on try to seduce her. But she isn’t going to put up with this bullshit. She just wants him to shut up and fish. Finally she has enough and shoves him in the lake and ditches him. This song wouldn’t sound out-of-place in the mid to late 90s, as it’s a fun and catchy song with traditional instrumentation. It’s also nice to hear a song like this from the female perspective, as there have been many songs like this from the male perspective (Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her” immediately came to mind). This is one of those songs that are impossible to hate and definitely needs to be a single.

Their current single “Fly” follows. My opinion of this song is largely unchanged since I originally reviewed it back in November when they released an EP. From that review: This song is an inspirational song about not giving up and pursuing your goal. This is the first slow tempo song from the duo and I think it’s a solid showing. The theme of the song is a little generic, but I’ll take generic inspiration over a lot of other themes on country radio. While many disagreed with this as a single choice, I think it ultimately proved to be a good choice, as they needed a safer song after their incendiary first single. The song everyone said should have been the second single, “Sierra” is next. I agree that this would make a great single and it very well could be the third single as it’s catchy and I think it could appeal to female listeners. My original thoughts are again unchanged: The song is about a girl named Sierra and according to Maddie & Tae she’s not a very good person. The evidence of this is Sierra dumping her friends, being cruel hearted and treating boys like crap. Now some people might find the topic of this song to be a little juvenile, but keep in mind this is coming from two teenage girls. This song sounds like it’s genuinely coming from them, which some people didn’t feel with “Girl in a Country Song.” Another good thing they do with this song is they utilize their harmonies well and is something I want to hear from them more. 

“Your Side of Town” is another song that appeared on their EP from last November. Unlike the previous two songs, my opinion on this song has changed from what I originally wrote. It’s a heartbreak song that’s upbeat and fun featuring a good amount of fiddles. It gets a tad pop in places, but maintains a decidedly country song. I originally said this sounds like a Miranda Lambert song, but I think I was wrong. Lambert has never made such a catchy heartbreak song that was this country. Again I could see this is as a good single to release to radio. Maddie & Tae sing about falling in love in “Right Here Right Now.” The woman in the song has been waiting in anticipation for the moment her love finally kisses her and it’s finally arrived she realized, as there is no better time than right here and right now. Is this song deep? No. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a feel good love song that’s easy to connect with and has a youthful exuberance that fits the duo. Fiddles and acoustic guitars play in “No Place Like You.” It’s another song where it wouldn’t have sounded out-of-place in the 90s and would have been a smash hit. It’s a love song about travelling all over the place and seeing many great things, but being with your loved one is the best place of all. Again it’s a very country song with clever songwriting, something this album is chockfull of throughout it.

Just when you thought this album couldn’t get anymore country, “After The Storm Blows Through” proves to be the countriest song on the album. Not only that, but it’s the best song on the album too. It’s a song about standing by your friend or perhaps a loved one through thick and thin, vowing to be by their side in the toughest of times or giving them space if needed. Regardless it’s about a vow to stick together. It’s beautiful and touching. Maddie & Tae deliver a grand slam with this song and it’s the biggest “Wow” moment of the album. This is without a doubt one of the best country songs I’ve heard this year.

Start Here concludes with “Downside of Growing Up,” a song about going through the pain of growing up. At the beginning the duo sing about moving out on your own and not having your parents there to help you get unstuck and feeling helpless. But it’s all okay because it’s just part of the road you have to take to learn and live your life. I’m sure older listeners are nodding their head in approval of this, while young listeners are experiencing this as they listen. I have to point out this too: The Band Perry, a veteran group, is releasing party, pop fluff like “Live Forever” to connect with young people. Meanwhile Maddie & Tae, the fresh-faced duo who aren’t even old enough to legally drink yet are releasing a heartfelt, traditional country song about growing up that actually relates to real life. Just saying. By the way, am I the only one who heard this and immediately thought it sounded like something out of Alan Jackson’s catalog? This is another gem and a strong close to the album.

Maddie & Tae deliver in spades with Start Here. I was a little worried that the delay meant that album would be more “pop infused” and thankfully it proved to not be the case. While there are tinges of pop influence, it’s more of in the 2000s pop country area and not in the 2015 blatantly pop area. Really the great majority of this album is pure country, instrumentation-wise and thematically. Maddie & Tae’s vocals are dynamic, engaging and just flat-out rock. The songwriting is well thought out, as well as clever and witty (they helped write every single song on the album). People have been looking for a great hope in mainstream country music that could signal a changing of the tide back to the roots of the genre and we may just found it in Maddie & Tae. I know this is really high praise, but I honestly got Dixie Chicks vibes from this album. They’re that damn good. Maddie & Tae couldn’t have made a better start than they did with Start Here.

Grade: 10/10

 

35 thoughts on “Album Review – Maddie & Tae Make A Fantastic Debut With ‘Start Here’

  1. fromthewordsofbr August 28, 2015 / 11:01 am

    YES, the review I’ve been waiting for…for about an hour.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond August 28, 2015 / 11:20 am

    Oh I definitley need this album. I had a feeling it wasn’t gonna be good I was thinking you guys were going for a 7/10.

    I have to say hearing the accoustic performances I shouldn’t have been worried.

    Like

    • Josh Schott August 28, 2015 / 11:33 am

      You definitely underrated this album. But I think everyone did. I’d say it’s easily the best I’ve heard from the mainstream this year.

      Like

  3. Cobra August 28, 2015 / 11:39 am

    Alright, I definitely need to go pick this album up after work today. I’m really excited for this, now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Clovis Mello August 28, 2015 / 11:57 am

    Here is mainstream’s solution to the pop problem and the lack of females problem. If Maddie & Tae can’t receive a push from country radio, then there’s no hope left for country radio.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Megan Conley August 28, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    Ten from me as well, and I see I’m not the only one to hear Dixie Chicks echoes in Maddie & Tae. I can’t believe this came out of Big Machine.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Derek Hudgin August 28, 2015 / 12:53 pm

    The best mainstream country album this year. I have no problems assigning it that accolade right now!

    Liked by 3 people

    • darkhornetlsu August 28, 2015 / 1:13 pm

      It’s been a pretty low bar set so far, that’s for sure.

      Like

  7. SRM August 28, 2015 / 2:20 pm

    I wish there were some moments of more muscle, especially on “Your Side Of Town” and “No Place Like You”, which come so close to hitting the mark for me, but just miss. But this is definitely what I needed from them, and this is definitely what country radio needs right now. What’s more, I think this is what the younger crowd listening to radio wants, too.

    On a personal note, “After The Storm Blows Through” and “Downside Of Growing Up” are both good songs, but are sort of uncomfortable listens for me at the moment, and I think that’s some of the highest praise one can give songwriters

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria August 28, 2015 / 3:02 pm

    I’m going to have to disagree with the final grade on this one.

    In this album, Maddie & Tae actually find the sought-after balance between traditional country instrumentation and lyrical appeal to immature mainstream fans, and they definitely deserve credit for that…but yet, “Start Here” has some lyrical weaknesses that keep me from giving it a 10/10.

    Starting at the top:

    “Waitin’ On A Plane”: 9/10. This song does an excellent job of kicking off the underlying theme of this album, which is basically (as you pointed out Josh) Maddie & Tae “spreading their wings and flying.” The breezy production and beautiful harmonies really add to this song also.

    “Girl In A Country Song”: 7.5/10. Ironically, the song calling out bro-country isn’t even one of the best songs on the album (in my opinion anyway)! Of course, the drawback on this one is the hip-hop and pop influences permeating the song…although it’s still decidedly pop-country, not straight pop and R&B like the current norm for country radio.

    “Smoke”: 8.5/10. I actually interpreted the lyrics in this song to be about a woman trying to get to know a guy she loves but who tends to push people away and not be social; but whatever. Either way, it’s a catchy, well-produced love song that definitely works.

    “Shut Up And Fish”: 9/10. They would be stupid not to release this as a single: this is where Maddie & Tae demonstrate exactly how to lyrically appease mainstream fans without being female bro-country (*cough* Kelsea Ballerini). This is a fresh, funny story (that even makes a poke at city life to appease the bro fans) that the teen demographic will love but yet still isn’t immature.

    “Fly”: 7.5/10. Another song that connects to the “spread your wings and fly” theme of the album, though the lyrics are a little cliche and sloppy. Again, the instrumentation and vocal harmonies are fantastic.

    “Sierra”: 9/10. This is why Maddie & Tae are perfect to fill the void that Taylor Swift left: they know how to hit the right chords with adolescent listeners, because they’re fresh out out experiencing those things themselves. And a song about a bully is another great way to do it, especially a catchy, cheeky one that boldly implies curse words. (Plus, this features more great instrumentation. When was the last time we heard fiddles used this freely in mainstream country?)

    “Your Side Of Town”: 6.5/10. This song is really one of the weaker moments on the album, due to the fact that it is more pop-rock-influenced than any of the other songs besides “Girl In A Country Song” (though it’s still incredibly catchy and fairly country). And it still feels like a Miranda Lambert reject to me: I’d classify it more in the “kiss-off” category than the “heartbreak” category lyrically…and that’s where I see this song resembling something Lambert might sing.

    “Right Here, Right Now”: 7/10. Like “Your Side Of Town,” this one feels kind of like filler to me. The lyrics are decent, but not great. The production is good although it does lean a little towards pop-country. Vocals, of course, are excellent; and there’s no denying this has radio potential. But all in all, this song just leaves me thinking “safe.”

    “No Place Like You”: 8/10. Thematically, this is nothing new, but the actual lyrics are still pretty respectable and clever, and it’s well-produced and well-sung. I’m sure this song could do decently on radio as well.

    “After The Storm Blows Through”: 10/10. M.A.S.T.E.R.P.I.E.C.E. Without a doubt the best friendship song I’ve ever heard, and one of the best country songs this year, mainstream or underground. Although the fantastic, stripped-back production is probably my favorite aspect of this track.

    “Downside Of Growing Up”: 9/10. A perfect, fitting, and mature way to close out the album that also touches on the main theme, with more excellent country instrumentation as well. Seriously…Taylor Swift was hailed as a great songwriter for her age, but Maddie & Tae blow her out of the water, especially maturity-wise. (Just compare “Mean” and “Picture To Burn” to this song and “After The Storm Blows Through”! 😉 ) And they’re more country than she is, to boot.

    Overall, this is an outstanding listen, and definitely if not the best mainstream album of 2015, in the top three. The underlying theme is very clever and the songwriting is for the most part good; vocally, they knock it out of the park. However, there are a couple songs on the album that just feel like filler to me, and other songs that are rather weak lyrically or production-wise. Don’t get me wrong: this is mainstream country at its very best, and also a pivotal point for mainstream country as well, as I’ll explain in my final point; but I just can’t put this album on the same level as albums like “Something More Than Free” or “Sonic Ranch.” Superb debut, Maddie & Tae, but I give “Start Here” a 9/10.

    One last thing:

    If Maddie & Tae play their cards right with their single choices, they could easily be catapulted into stardom—because they are the replacement country radio needs for Swift. Young women (or men) who can make songs that the pop-culture teens will love, whether the songs be immature or mature. In this case, I don’t think it really matters that they make traditional country music, since Nashville is so desperate to either regain Swift or find a replacement. Swift was a huge factor in making country music popular, and they want to hold onto that popularity with a death grip.
    In the end, radio is looking for the relatable lyrics and the catchiness, and Maddie & Tae have both those things down. So as long as they make smart single choices, I can see them quickly becoming huge, and that could end up leading to two things: the neo-traditional movement in mainstream country that we’ve been waiting for for so long, or Maddie & Tae going in the same direction that Swift did and ending up in pop.

    That’s just my two cents on this situation. I could easily be wrong, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Megan Conley August 28, 2015 / 4:54 pm

      I can’t say anything about “Sonic Ranch,” as I haven’t yet listened to that all the way through–I definitely plan to. However, I respectfully disagree about Jason Isbell’s album. “Something More Than Free” was a nine for me because “Flagship,” although it contained the same excellent songwriting present on the rest of the album, was too “deep” to be very relatable. Part of good songwriting, aside from deep and/or catchy lyrics, is being able to connect with people, and Maddie & Tae do this on every song. You’re right, there are some lyrical weak points, and their writing isn’t as mature as someone like Jason Isbell, but let’s remember they’re trying to relate to young people. I think they did that remarkably well, and in a much more mature fashion than Kelsea Ballerini. Just my opinion 🙂

      Like

      • Lisandro Berry-Gaviria August 28, 2015 / 9:36 pm

        Good point; people being able to relate to the lyrics is definitely an important part of songwriting (although I don’t think it’s vital, hence I still love “Flagship”). And yes, Maddie & Tae do a great job of crafting songs that people can relate to on this album (“Sierra,” “Downside Of Growing Up,” to name a couple)…and no doubt in a more mature way than Ballerini, or Taylor Swift as I mentioned.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nadia Lockheart August 29, 2015 / 5:08 am

      We seem to be in solid agreement with what were the highest and lowest points of “Start Here”.

      I know some may think of me as absolutely stubborn with my grading rubric. But I think a High 7/Low 8 score is very appropriate for an album that has three tracks I’d consider weaker links on a lyrical level and several moments where the production is either too boring or too compressed………………but gets just about everything else right.

      I actually consider “Fly” and “Your Side Of Town” tied for the weakest track on “Start Here”. Both would rate as listenable, but essentially take-it-or-leave-it to my ears. Two other tracks (“Right Here, Right Now”, “No Place Like You”) would rate as “Pretty good. Not necessarily something I’d put on repeat, but sounds good all things considered!”. While I had a blast listening to the whole rest of the album.

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      I still think releasing “Fly” as the second single wasn’t a smart decision, and I still stand by my assertion despite it holding its own at airplay.

      Up until a week and à half ago, “Fly” never impacted the Top 100 of the iTunes composite chart. It also has never reached the Top Ten of the digital country chart. Much of this can be attributed to middling radio callout results: where despite low “Passionate Dislike” scores, the song nonetheless rated in thé bottom half of surveyed songs because there was ALSO à very low “Passionate Like” score. It’s that type of song that screams “Meh, it’s alright, I can take it or leave it!”………….which is an unwise approach to take when you’re an up-and-coming artist trying to generate awareness.

      It hasn’t sold well (about 150,000 to date) and listeners as a whole aren’t passionate about it. That leads me fearing what will likely be a soft opening for “Start Here”, and am hoping the universal critical acclaim it is receiving will help counteract the indifference to their current single.

      Here’s how I would have picked the singles:

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      1) “Girl In A Country Song” (Obviously! You want to emerge on the scene with a bang of a statement! Absolutely agree with this decision!)

      2) “Sierra” (Look, I get why some would argue it would be risky to follow up one cheeky, playful song with another one. But it is absolutely important to anchor an album release off of a track that pushes buttons and is somewhat polarizing. “Sierra” is exactly that kind of track that commands your attention, and while some won’t like it right off the bat, it isn’t polarizing to the extent of a “1994” or “Real Life” because most would sense it delivered in good cheer and warmth. I’m absolutely convinced “Sierra” would have done a hell of a lot more to move the needle both at airplay and digitally than “Fly” has, and serve as a more potent single to anchor the album release.)

      3) “Waitin’ On A Plane” (At this point, you obviously want to highlight the more sentimental, emotionally evocative side of the duo. But before taking a leap of faith with “After The Storm Blows Through”, test the waters with a more radio-ready but solid example of it. “Waitin’ On A Plane” achieves that in spades.)

      4) “After The Storm Burns Through” (Much like the Zac Brown Band did with “Highway 20 Ride” off their debut major label album “The Foundation” after playing it safer with their first three singles…………….NOW is the time to take a leap of faith with an intimate, stripped-down ballad. What do you have to lose this deep in the promotional cycle? Chances are it could very well flop, but you don’t know until you try.)

      5) “Shut Up And Fish” (No matter the fate of “After The Storm Blows Through”, “Shut Up And Dance” is the perfect song to end the era. It’s the type of earworm, much like “Sierra”, that would either keep the momentum going for them or else revive their momentum should “After The Storm Blows Through” underperform and have its plug pulled prematurely.)

      *

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  9. Lorenzo August 28, 2015 / 3:07 pm

    amazing review Josh! I really couldn’t agree more with you. The album is outstanding and very pleasant to listen to! maddie and tae are two angels vocally and it is especially shown in the amazing ‘After the storm blows through’. musically it makes me think of hurt somebody by Dierks Bentley. so magical. and yeah, they did remind me of Alan Jackson and Brad Paisley with Downside and Shut up and Fish. I hope country radio will keep on playing these two amazing ladies!

    Like

  10. Zack August 28, 2015 / 9:27 pm

    I definitely got a mid-2000’s feel from this album, yet it still felt so fresh and invigorating. This is by far the best mainstream effort this year (unless you count “Traveller” as mainstream, actually some other acts are debatable as well). I’m glad Borchetta let these two gals be who they wanted to be, the album is so much for that as a result. I’m glad that “Fly” has managed to hang on so long on the charts, especially in today’s climate. Much like their debut single, this is more than just an album, it’s a sign of hope, that there ARE in fact people who still care about the integrity of this genre.

    Like

  11. Cobra August 29, 2015 / 12:01 am

    Well, I did end up picking up the album after work, and listened to it, and I would assign it a 9/10. That’s not even to say I disagree with giving it a 10/10, as I didn’t find anything wrong with the album, and had no complaints, though, as either you or Derek said in the comments section of another post, a 10/10 is something you just feel. For me, it just ended up as a 9. A superb album nonetheless.

    I also agree wholeheartedly about “After the Storm Blows Through.” The minute I heard it, I was instantly reminded of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Jubilee,” off of her 1994 album “Stones in the Road.” That song helped to pull me through an extraordinarily difficult time in my life and I heard echos of that song in this one.

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  12. Nadia Lockheart August 29, 2015 / 4:41 am

    I’m going to copy and paste my review as originally posted on Zack’s This Is Country Music site, since rewriting my thoughts in full here would be a bit time-consuming! =)

    I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to concur this is a 10/10 album. It’s just me, of course, but I choose to make 10/10 coronations exceptionally rare; holstered only in instances where I believe an album is not only marvelous from front to back BOTH as far as the sum of its parts and as a whole is concerned, but when I truly believe the album will be regarded in the long run as a definitive work of that generation or a relic of sorts.

    To put it in perspective, there is only ONE album I’ve designated a 10/10 this year, and it’s not a country album. That is Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”. I am absolutely convinced in the decades ahead, many will look back on that album as a quintessential work of this generation for its rich, multi-layered commentary and corncucopia of sounds and moods without ever losing focus. There are, obviously, country albums I regard as 10/10, but none have been released this year I would designate that rating. There have been some 9/10 albums though from James McMurtry, Gretchen Peters, Randy Rogers/Wade Bowen and Will Hoge, to my ears, because they are about as brilliant as can get but fall just short of being the kind of albums I think will have the sort of greater resonance an album like “To Pimp A Butterfly” will. I’d say the last country album I’ve heard I’d consider a 10/10 would probably be Jamey Johnson’s “The Guitar Song”.

    Anyway, that doesn’t at all diminish the great praise I have for Maddie & Tae’s debut: which I’d consider the most impressive debut mainstream country album I’ve heard since at least Lucy Hale’s “Road Between” (I’d say “Start Here” is marginally better than “Road Between”, but both are perfect examples of stellar country-pop albums)

    Now onto my review, as originally posted in the comments section of This Is Country Music:

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    *

    “Start Here” easily stands out as one of the best mainstream country albums of 2015 to date alongside Jon Pardi’s “The B-Sides, 2011-2014 (EP)”, Will Hoge’s “Small Town Dreams” (it can be argued whether he is “mainstream” or not), Ashley Monroe’s “The Blade” and, to a slightly lesser extent, Kacey Musgraves’ “Pageant Material”. (It can also be argued whether Dwight Yoakam’s “Second Hand Heart” and Jason Isbell’s “Something More Than Free” are eligible, but I’d consider them top-notch releases outside of the mainstream).

    “Start Here” features impeccable instrumentation and production across the board, shared vocal strengths with a great deal of emotional range spanning the sentimental tearjerking quality to outright sassy, and while there are a few lyrical weak links (which I’ll get to), all in all the songwriting is also strong from both a lyrical and technical standpoint.

    I absolutely agree that the brightest jewel in the tiara is “After The Storm Blows Through”. It is based on a real-life experience Maddie endured where, prior to moving to Nashville to chase her dreams, the father of one of our closest friends had been under the weather but found his condition gradually improving……………only to learn the tragic news two weeks after relocating of his passing…………and speaks to the emotional support Maddie aspires to offer her friend from a distance. An absolutely beautiful tearjerker that will certainly make my shortlist for the Best Mainstream Country Songs of 2015 countdown, aided by warm, intimate production that fits that vibe hand in glove.

    Another key highlight is “Downside Of Growing Up”. It follows a traditional arrangement laden with mandolin with some modern sensibilities that never come across as obtrusive: speaking of the thorns that come with coming of age with an assurance that they will serve as a positive learning experience without coming across as preachy or New Age fluff. A perfect way to close the album but also stand on its own as an individual gem.

    On the flip-side, there are songs like “Sierra”: which is an absolutely hilarious and cheeky take on “the other girl” that flirtatiously skirts some choice profanity as boldly as they can possibly take it without actually saying it. It is a ridiculously catchy earworm that I definitely think needs to be designated a single at some juncture with plenty of whimsical fiddle to boot. “Shut Up And Fish” also flourishes for a similar reason: with some crunchy, rollicking roadhouse guitar and powerhouse vocals that blends perfectly with a late summer dusk: complete with twinkling honky-tonk piano and faint whiffs of pedal steel.

    And “Waitin’ On A Plane” is driven by a breezy, autumnal, percussion-heavy lilt with spacey vocal harmonies that evoke feelings of saudade complemented with a strident chorus that clamors for a ticket to a dream life fulfilled. Especially when pairing it with “Downside Of Growing Up”, they make very fitting, eloquent bookends………………….with the former reflecting the youthful innocence and naivete that reflects the start of an adventure, and the latter insisting though it may not be all candy and roses, it still makes for a beautiful ride worth embarking on: both conveying genuine warmth and compassion as though Maddie & Tae are highway companions.

    “Start Here” isn’t without its weaker lyrical and/or thematic moments.

    I’ve already touched on why their current single, “Fly”, suffers from inconsistencies between the second and third person narration, and all in all it just comes across as leftover Martina McBride-esque, cat-clinging-from-the-clotheshanger “Hang In There!” motivational poster cliches warmed up in the microwave and served again. Yes, it does feature gorgeous instrumentation and vocal harmonies, but on the other hand it just plods along and bores me rather quickly. At this point, it’s a track I find myself skipping.

    “Your Side Of Town” is probably the weakest cut on the album in that it can’t help but come across as a B-side from the “Four The Record” era-Miranda Lambert sessions. Just smacks as an obligatory kiss-off song that makes for a rare moment of filler on the album. And “Right Here Right Now”, while exquisitely produced and well-performed, is really only here to serve a purpose as radio filler and errs very closely to Adult Contemporary sensibilities. Dan Huff also tends to revert back to his old overcompression habits on that track with the way the chorus emits too much of that “wall of sound” vice.

    All in all, however, I am absolutely impressed by this debut full-length effort. The duo haven’t even hit their twenties yet, and they are already wise beyond their metro-bro peers’ years, not to mention have the most genuine appreciation and love of modern country music in its purity.

    I’m thinking a Strong 7 to a Light 8 for this, and by far on my shortlist for Best Mainstream Country Albums of 2015.

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    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisandro Berry-Gaviria August 29, 2015 / 9:42 am

      I didn’t know that “After The Storm Blows Through” was based off a real-life experience! But it kind of makes sense—a lot of the best songs are the ones that come from the heart.

      Like

      • Nadia Lockheart August 29, 2015 / 3:22 pm

        Even though the duo had a hand at writing every single track on this album, I think “After The Storm Blows Through”, “Downside of Growing Up”, “Waitin’ On A Plane” and “Girl In A Country Song” are the four tracks that strike me as the most personally charged and autobiographical.

        The remaining seven tracks all range from listenable to great, but also seem geared to mass audiences as more accessible anthems. Obviously, that doesn’t diminish their worth one bit, as sometimes you need tracks that channel more of a populist swell as opposed to being most personal and, sometimes, insular.

        I do think personal insight is sorely lacking in mainstream country presently, and I do yearn to hear a renaissance of that as opposed to every single song being clinically designed to make everyone want to pump their fists in the air and shout “Whoa oh oh!”. But Maddie & Tae do reveal enough of their personal experiences on this album to lead me to believe they have so much more to offer beyond this solid debut.

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    • Josh Schott August 29, 2015 / 3:20 pm

      Great points as always Nadia. I completely agree about Kendrick Lamar’s album by the way. As many great country albums I’ve heard this year, To Pimp A Butterfly is easily the best across all genres and will be remembered for years to come. It’s a true work of art. One thing I will say about 10/10 grades: there are two schools of thought I see with it. There’s my school of thought, which is looking at impact, instrumentation, songwriting, vocals and production. Does the artist and music reach their full potential in each category? And does it blend together well? If so, it gets at least 9/10. Then the final question of do I really feel it? If the answer is yes to all questions, despite a couple of lesser songs or moments, I give it 10/10. The second school of thought and the one you seem to lean towards is every song has to be near flawless or flawless to get 10/10. It has to be transcendent. Nothing wrong at all with this, it’s just too tough in my opinion. Then again I’m maybe too easy sometimes. Another thing is it’s hard to determine if an album is a true classic right up front. Sometimes it could be years before figuring this out. It’s a true guessing game.

      Back to Start Here: I think this album could be looked upon more favorably years from now because it could be a true signal of change in mainstream country music. With this duo’s talent, Borchetta backing them and radio playing them, this could be America’s chance to make up for dismissing the Dixie Chicks (who if allowed to reach their full height of popularity, could have drastically altered the trajectory of mainstream country music). The sky is truly the limit for Maddie & Tae. Hence why I ultimately gave this album a 10/10 because I think the impact could be huge. It will most certainly not be their best, but it could be the most important and impacting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nadia Lockheart August 29, 2015 / 3:44 pm

        Oh, I see what you’re saying, and certainly respect your grading rubric! =D

        Of course, with me, there were two tracks (“Fly”, “Your Side Of Town”) that I considered middling; and so that alone would keep it from a perfect score as is. Then there were a couple of other tracks (“Right Here Right Now”, “No Place Like You”) which are certainly good all things considered, but not great, and so that’s obviously going to reflect lightly in the final album score too.

        Where we can obviously agree is this album resembles part of the cream of the crop in country music for 2015 regardless of whether it’s from the mainstream or outside of it. Barring a sudden (and unlikely) deluge of stellar mainstream country albums in the fourth quarter, I see absolutely no way Maddie & Tae won’t land in the Top Three of my Best Mainstream Country Albums of 2015 year-end list, and the Top Ten of my composite Best Country & Americana Albums of 2015 list. =)

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      • Megan Conley August 30, 2015 / 3:40 pm

        I agree about a ten being something you have to feel. There are a lot of nine albums that are great, but a ten has more to do with feeling. There are better albums than this one in terms of lyrics especially, but Maddie & Tae do something on this album better than most; they relate to people. Just because the people they are relating to are teenagers doesn’t mean their music is somehow more immature, and actually means their music could have a greater impact on country music. They have managed to do something that no one else in the mainstream has done this year; they have brought real, traditional country music, albeit pop-influenced, to the demographic that thinks “country” = Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini. Not only that, but when I listened to this album, I laughed (“Shut Up and Fish'”), cried, (“After the Storm Blows Through,”) and could relate to nearly every song, at least to some degree. That is what country is all about. Add to that great instrumentation, flawless vocals, and the kind of impact Maddie & Tae could have on mainstream country music, and this album = a ten.

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      • Nadia Lockheart August 30, 2015 / 8:40 pm

        Don’t get me wrong: I truly felt the majority of songs on this album as well. “After The Storm Blows Through” and “Downside of Growing Up” made my eyes water, “Sierra” and “Shut Up And Fish” made me giggle, and “Waitin’ On A Plane” made me sigh reflectively. I see what you’re saying! =)

        Even on that front though, “Fly” bores me, and “Your Side Of Town” just leaves me thinking “This sounds just like a middle-of-the-road Miranda Lambert B-side!”. So those two songs fell short of leaving some real impact on me like seven definitely did, and the remaining two (“Right Here Right Now”, “No Place Like You” kind of did but in a way that was in mixed company with many other longing-for-love-or-connection songs.

        This is a great album. I just don’t consider it a classic: as 10/10 suggests a classic album status score. Even still, 8/10 rates as an album that is consistently listenable across the board and also has a high share of “Wow!” moments. Also, I recognize that everyone has varying definitions as to what “classic” means to them. Heck, for some Jove-forsaking reason, I’m sure countless “country” listeners consider almost ANYTHING they lap up from Luke Bryan “classics”. (No point arguing with them at this point! =P ).

        And please don’t take that latter assertion the wrong way. I’m by no stretch of the imagination comparing those who consider this album a classic to those who consider “Crash My Party” and “Tailgates & Tanlines” classic albums. This album is actually the real deal. But when taking into personal consideration BOTH featuring a couple of middling tracks that didn’t leave any real impact with me, as well as my initial point that I don’t think it will be looked back on as a time capsule, or musical relic, of this generation. I think it will certainly have more staying power than the majority of their peers, at any rate.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Nadia Lockheart August 29, 2015 / 11:46 pm

    As I suspected, it looks like a soft opening for Maddie & Tae, unfortunately. =(

    Hits Daily Double is currently predicting 20-23K in their opening week. Obviously not gawd-awful like Canaan Smith or Kelsea Ballerini (not that I was expecting them to fare THAT poorly), but still a rather disappointing result. That won’t be enough to surpass Luke Bryan for the #1 spot on the Hot Country Albums chart! =(

    Had they released “Sierra” or “Shut Up And Fish” as the second single instead of “Fly”, I’m quite confident the sales would have fared better due to the buzz.

    Hopefully the universal critical acclaim will help, if not elevate first-week predictions, ensure this album has legs. “Fly” just wasn’t the right single to anchor this album and generate hype for it.

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    • Raymond August 30, 2015 / 10:07 am

      While I agree that it’s dissapointing I’d imagine when GIACS peaked they weren’t ready to release the album. I also believe that if they released Sierra or Shut Up and Fish those songs might’ve fared poorly because I think the girls would’ve been typecasted as the sassy rude girls.

      I think Fly was more of a statement that Maddie & Tae had more sides to them. Do I wish that Fly wouldn’t have gotten buried last spring single releases of Luke, Blake and etc. Yes but I imagined that spring hiccup was just the songs that wouldn’t die at the time (Trouble, She Don’t Love You, Riot) and also a lot of fast moving songs from Brett, Luke, Keith, Sam Hunt,Chris Janson, Jason Aldean and Thomas. I do think radio is gonna support Maddie & Tae and I can definitley see their fanbase grow larger.

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      • Nadia Lockheart August 30, 2015 / 8:50 pm

        I would have released “Sierra” as the second single without thinking twice, frankly.

        I respect the fact that they didn’t want to pigeonhole themselves as a particular kind of act. But when you’re just starting out, what is of utmost importance is having a single that is designed to build buzz and excitement. Something that is somewhat polarizing but not overtly so.

        The Zac Brown Band come to mind as a fitting analogy as far as debuts is concerned. They emerged onto the scene with the incredibly hyped “Chicken Fried”. Despite the extraordinary success of that debut single, Brown also wisely knew, as a businessman himself, that it wasn’t YET the time to push a ballad as a follow-up. So, they released another song in the breezy, mid-tempo vein which was the love song “Whatever It Is”: which also did well. Then, they decided to thematically mix it up with a beach song (“Toes”) without changing the formula too much for the sake of maintaining momentum.

        THEN, they knew they had nothing to lose with taking chances on some heart-tugging ballads. They rolled the dice with “Highway 20 Ride”, and it turned out to pay off greatly. Then, they followed it up with another one and it also flourished.

        *

        Maddie & Tae and Dot Records should have approached the single release strategy with a similar discipline.

        I’d LOVE to see “After The Storm Blows Through” eventually see release as a radio single. But it isn’t wise to anchor an album around a track that won’t generate buzz. First and foremost, you need to get listeners talking and positively agitated.

        “Fly” just isn’t that type of song. It’s just…………..there. And the underwhelming opening week sales projections underscore that. Had “Sierra” been released instead (or “Shut Up And Fish” if it had been finalized by the time “Girl In A Country Song” peaked), I’m quite confident it would be in the Top Ten of the iTunes Country Chart right now and opening week sales would be closer to 40K.

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      • Raymond August 30, 2015 / 11:50 pm

        I think Shut Up and Fish could’ve surely helped the album. But I seriously doubt the sales would’ve been to different. I’d bump it to like 30k honestley compared to all the newcomers this year Maddie & Tae opening sales aren’t bad.

        Also I truly believe radio wants these girls to succeed evident by Fly basically being a lock tomorrow for a top 10 finish I truly believe the album sales while unfortunate won’t matter in the long run because I think radio will support them like they’ve done with Kelsea Ballerini as evident by Dibs so far having good sales and nice gains. I think radio is truly gonna support Maddie & Tae and I imagine the third song will have a nice showing on iTunes.

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  14. Clovis Mello August 31, 2015 / 10:19 am

    One of my favorite parts of the song “Shut Up and Fish” was the subtle dig at the bro country trend. In the first part of the song, there’s the line: “So we headed out to a spot on the lake”. How many times have we heard that lyric in bro country songs? And every time, it’s hinting at getting away to have sex. What I love about this song is that they draw the line that they are going out to the lake to actually do a lake activity!

    Maybe I’m making more out of that line than I should, but I thought that bit of irony was very well done.

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