Published Aug 26, 2015How do you follow a manifesto? In the case of 20 year olds Madison Marlow and Tae Dye, the task is doubly fraught, since that manifesto — "Girl In A Country Song," their blistering, if playful, takedown of bro country tropes — went number one. When the upstart duo appeared last year with the single, country fans took notice.
It was a monster hit: "Girl In A Country Song" debuted at the top of the Billboard country singles chart and set the tone for the ongoing conversation we have (finally) been having about the impoverished place of women in Nashville's hierarchy. But, as with all first-shot bullseyes, many of us have been wondering how (and, even, if) they could follow it up.
Maddie and Tae (an Oklahoman and a Texan who, as teenagers, bonded over a shared vocal coach) are not to be defined by their iconoclastic hit any more, and the evidence is all over this tremendous debut. They have much more to say, and the chops to back it up. In fact, this may be one of the most hit-stacked mainstream country records of 2015. Good as it is, "Girl In A Country Song" isn't even among the best three tunes on the album.
A largely acoustic record about breaking out, about the newness of adulthood and the struggle to come to terms with sudden freedom, Start Here is a debut through and through. There's a fun song about getting back at a high school bully ("Sierra") and a goof about rural life and identity ("Shut Up And Fish") that feel juvenile and lightweight, but elsewhere, Maddie and Tae (and a team of Nashville's finest co-writers) tap into the elation/trepidation of embarking on a new life chapter with precision and affecting grace. On album standouts "Downside of Growing Up," "Fly" and "Waiting On A Plane," the duo conjure an ineffable nostalgic ache.
Unlike those of many of their contemporaries, this album isn't offering much faux hard-won wisdom, and there's no late-night barstool proselytizing to speak of. Instead, Start Here channels the naïve wonder, genuine openness, and hopeful abandon of post-adolescence. In the album's most unforgettable phrase, they sing: "It's time to paint a little streak on a blue sky." Up, up, and away. (Universal)