“That’s alright, that’s okay. It’s just the way you find your way. It’s the road you gotta take to get where you’re going,” 2014’s breakout duo Maddie & Tae advise on their debut album’s manifesto and closing track “Downside of Growing Up,” a plucky, bluegrass-esque ode to coming of age and becoming an independent thinker. “You’re gonna twist, you’re gonna turn, but it’s how you’re gonna learn a lot about life, a lot about love, on the downside of growing up.” Throughout Start Here, their first full-length player on Big Machine, the dynamic musicians Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye enlist a well of commanding depth, ranging from youthful and hopeful exuberance (“Waitin’ on a Plane,” “Fly“) to cheeky defiance (“Sierra,” “Shut Up and Fish”).
With the help of industry-producing titan Dann Huff, known for his work with Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton and Brantley Gilbert, and relative newcomer Aaron Scherz, the dynamite pair earn a bit of traditionalist respect, often fusing their Dixie Chicks influence with an even more polished sweep to culminate in an impressive debut.
Anchored by the gold-selling radio smash “Girl in a Country Song,” which the two wrote with Scherz in retaliation against the bro-country explosion, the record plays mightily to its ’90s strengths. The heavy-weight songwriting is progressive in its forward thinking and is masked in cutting wit and powerful harmonies. Through melding together red-dirt, rock, folk and bluegrass, the duo have created the perfect storm, wafting across a wide range of stories built on feminism and self-awareness. They are grown women, singing about the growing pains of love and relationships, but also earth-shattering moments of their personal journey. Often times, they aren’t ashamed to call out their male counterparts in devilishly satisfying ways; look no further than the honky-tonk piece, “Shut Up and Fish.” It’s a wit-barbed story that reconstructs the deluded carnal fantasies laid out by Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and a wide swatch of newcomers and their ogling tunes. “Sierra,” too, is an empowering track in a “haters gonna hate” world.
Their more deeply-invested songs, most notably the smoldering “Smoke” and the potent “After the Storm Blows Through,” give away to commanding images to drive home the impact of heartache and sorrow and ultimately moving on. Musically diverse, Start Here, is a vibrant staple in what the mainstream should be about in 2015.
As their first splash on the scene, their career does, in fact, Start Here.
Must-Listen Tracks: “Shut Up and Fish,” “After the Storm Blows Through,” “Smoke”
Grade: 4 out of 5