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