If you have read Female Fridays, you already know how I felt about Maddie & Tae up to this point. They are one of the main reasons I came back to country after losing all hope for the genre. I have recently become a reviewer of country music, but I am a fan first–those of us on independently-run sites are–and as a fan, I confess I had a lot of hopes for this album. I hoped it would be full of the country I heard on the EP. I could not bear to see another beacon of light for country become a singer of EDM (Zac Brown Band, talking about you), or some other trend. I am so glad to say this album reinforced my faith in Maddie & Tae and even gave me a shred of hope for country music.
The album opens with “Waitin’ on a Plane,” which is about a girl leaving town to chase her dreams. She’s sitting in seat 7A waiting for the plane to leave, thinking of the life she’s leaving and the future. Immediately I’m reminded of the Dixie Chicks’s “Ready to Run.” It’s not just the type of song, it’s their harmonies and style as well. People who said we’ll never hear anything like the Dixie Chicks again, think again, it’s here in Maddie & Tae. Next is their hit “Girl in a Country Song,” the anti-bro country anthem that put Maddie & Tae on the map. I wasn’t reviewing when this song came out, so I’ll say it now; this song is brilliant, and even more so in the context of an album. At the time of its release, many wondered why Maddie & Tae used hip-hop influences in their song and whether they would really be as “traditional” as they claimed. This song is the only one on the album with this type of influence, proving that along with the excellent, witty lyrics–which name-drop songs in clever, as opposed to obnoxious, ways–the instrumentation is there on purpose. They adopted the style to make fun of the trend while at the same time appealing to radio; if that song had been rife with steel guitar, it would never have gotten to radio, much less hit #1.
“Smoke” is a love song in which they are comparing a guy to “smoke.” I can’t help but think of the song by A Thousand Horses with the same name. In that song, a girl is “like smoke” because she is an addiction; in Maddie & Tae’s song, the “smoke” metaphor comes from this as well, but also lines like “You’re just like smoke blowin’ on the wind, one minute you’re by my side, and then you’re gone again.” This song has much better songwriting and paints a better picture of the guy described. “Shut Up and Fish” is one of my personal favorites; here, the narrator is fishing with “a city guy,” but all he wants to do is make out. He’s interrupting her while she’s trying to fish, saying, “It don’t get any better than this.” She responds, “Yeah, it could, if you would shut up and fish.” She ends up pushing him in the lake. I have unashamed bias toward this song because I am a female who both hates clinginess in guys and loves fishing. This song would be a great single.
The three other songs from the Maddie & Tae EP follow. “Fly,” their current single, is a nice inspirational song about not giving up and learning to fly. The lyrics could be a little better, but their harmonies are excellent, and this song should really connect with young girls everywhere. “Sierra” will connect with them as well–it’s a song where Maddie & Tae vent their frustration on a girl who ditches her friends, breaks boys’ hearts without caring, and generally acts like she’s better than everyone else. This might seem like just another song written by some teenage girls, but compare “Sierra, Sierra, life ain’t all tiaras” to Kelsea Ballerini’s “you can take your new blonde out to get your drink on” and tell me who writes better lyrics. “Sierra” would be a nice third single. “Your Side of Town” is an upbeat song with prominent country instrumentation that I could see as a single as well. It’s a song where they are telling some guy who broke one of their hearts to stay on his side of town and stay away from them.
“Right Here Right Now” has a little pop influence and is a youthful love song about taking the first step “right here right now tonight.” I love that I can write “a little pop influence”–it seems Maddie & Tae understand the difference between pop country and straight pop, an area in which the bros in their thirties and forties could take a lesson. “No Place Like You” is the actual country version of Kip Moore’s “Lipstick.” It actually tells the story of going to different places but still missing home and the one you love. This is actually country and does not go too far with the name-dropping, but rather balances out the place names with other details. “After the Storm Blows Through” is the most country song on the album and easily the best. This song about being there for a friend “after the storm blows through” features fiddles, acoustic guitars, and chilling harmonies. I feel like Maddie & Tae are singing to each other here, but I could be wrong. At any rate, this song gave me chills every time I listened to it and is one you definitely need to hear. The album closes with “Downside of Growing Up,” which is just that–an honest look at growing up that will be relatable to many young people.
Start Here is an excellent album. I have never heard anything resembling Dixie Chicks harmony and style before, but I hear it now in Maddie & Tae. The first country group I ever liked was the Dixie Chicks. I remember Wide Open Spaces was one of the first country albums I ever owned, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. That’s what Maddie & Tae can do. They can bring young people back to country. They can bring the ones who think of “country” as Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to real country music. Pop makes an occasional appearance on this album, but mostly, we hear fiddles, acoustic guitars, and mandolins. Their songwriting is excellent, especially for a debut album–they co-wrote each of these tracks. Maddie & Tae have brought hope to country music, and Start Here is one of the best albums of 2015.