Two great debut albums came out in 2015 from female artists that have been given a rough ride by the music industry in the years since. Cam’s ‘Untamed’ contained a number one hit in ‘Burning House’ and here we are, nearly four years later, after a record label change, still waiting for the follow up, and Maddie & Tae’s ‘Start Here’, which contained the number one hit, ‘Girl in a Country Song’. The duo, after a record label change, are just about producing a follow up of sorts. It goes without saying that male artists with smash songs wouldn’t have been treated in the way that both Cam and Maddie and Tae have been and that treatment continues to bemuse commentators and reviewers like myself because ‘One Heart to Another’ is just an EP, a five song appetiser for what Maddie and Tae can do. But we know what the girls can do because we heard it on their debut album and we saw them play the songs live from the MAIN STAGE, not satellite stages, of the C2C Festival in London in 2016.
For new label, UMG Nashville to only give Maddie and Tae a five song follow up to ‘Start Here’ seems like a bit of a slap in the face, particularly as though it is chock full of well crafted, meaningful, mature and harmonious music. These five songs are so good that there must be other ones lurking in the hard drives and phones of these talented women? Why not give them the respect they’ve earned and go full steam ahead on a new album? If this was a Dickerson, a Brett Young or a Michael Ray they wouldn’t be confined to a follow up EP – so why Maddie & Tae?
Recently nominated for the ACM ‘Duo of the Year’ award, Maddie & Tae burst onto the scene in 2014 with a song, ‘Girl in a Country Song’, a song that poked fun at Bro-Country conventions and lyrics. It went to number 1. Follow up song, ‘Fly’, a beautiful, uplifting ballad went top ten and the more light-hearted ‘Shut Up and Fish’ was top twenty five before Dot Records, a joint venture between Big Machine and Universal closed its doors unexpectedly, leaving artists like Maddie & Tae and Drake White suddenly homeless. If you listen to the podcast the girls did with American DJ Bobby Bones in his ‘BobbyCast’ series, you’ll learn that this sent them into a tailspin of angst and depression. The duo also released a video to YouTube detailing how tough this period was but here we are, now in 2019, and the odd adage of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ comes to mind because Maddie & Tae are back, with a new label, new music and the starring support slot on Carrie Underwood’s 55 date ‘in-the-round’ ‘Cry Pretty’ tour of the USA. Country music is all about facing up to adversity, owning your own truths and baring your soul to the world and so, in that respect, Maddie & Tae should have enough content to fill a couple of albums with strong material now rather than just one EP. Indeed, at one point last year, the girls were talking about releasing a ‘concept album’ of sorts, in the same way that Kelsea Ballerini’s last album, ‘Unapologetically’ detailed the journey through a relationship in chronological order, so would Maddie & Tae’s new work. Well, it’s here, in abbreviated form, at just five songs, and it does tell a tale of heartbreak, loss and redemption, in a sort of chronological order, it’s just a shame the record company didn’t trust the duo enough to give them a full format release.
‘One Heart to Another’’s mission statement is simple, Maddie Marlow explains. “We hope our fans hear the vulnerability, heartbreak, strength, truth and passion,” and yes, that is writ large in bold strokes across all five songs on offer here. ‘Friends Don’t’, the duo’s first single from the project, which peaked at 33 on the charts, a respectable achievement in these grim days for women on the radio, could be said to be the start of this short journey. It’s a smooth, mature, grown-up look at ‘will-they, won’t-they’ attraction. Banjo and guitar driven, it details the coming together of a couple that have been dancing around each other for a while. Strong vocals and clear production mark this one down as an obvious single with a strong chorus.
The story continues in second track, ‘Die Fom A Broken Heart’. Interestingly, this song was released to streaming services earlier in the year and despite being ignored by Country radio it was picked up by satellite stations like SiriusXM and championed by them on shows like ‘The Highway’. Enough of a buzz has been generated by fans and stations alike that the song is now being released as Maddie & Tae’s next single. The first verse is awash with trademark vocal harmonies as the narrator reaches out to her mother for help, in a phone call after being dumped, presumably by the ‘friend’ in the EP’s lead-off track. ‘How does he sleep at night, Mama, the nerve of this guy,’ the girls sing, searching for some meaning as to what has happened. It’s a lovely song, reminiscent of great ballads by the likes of Carrie Underwood and the Dixie Chicks, so let’s cross our fingers that it climbs a steady path up the charts over the coming months.
Track three, ‘Tourist in this Town’, sees the girl in question feeling isolated and dispossessed, carrying around a ‘broken heart for a souvenir.’ The song is louder than the previous two and has a catchy, anthemic chorus underpinned by jangly, electric guitars and a vaguely military drum beat. It will be a big live favourite on the Carrie Underwood tour and sees the duo almost growing up in public, moving on from the more girlish, high-school based songs, like ‘Sierra’ from the ‘Start Here’ album.
The title track, ‘One Heart to Another’ comes next. ‘From one ex to the next lover, it goes from one heart to another,’ Maddie & Tae sing, beginning to own their own truths and their current situation. This is a song about healing and about redemption and it fits the chronology of the track listing perfectly. The duo have also spoken about how this track is also about their split with Dot Records and the emotions that arose out of that situation. It’s another tender, mature ballad that could easily have been lifted from something like Carrie Underwood’s ‘Storyteller’ album. Yes, it is THAT good. It shows just how much more sophisticated and accomplished the girls have become as songwriters and performers. As part of the story on offer here it ushers in a period of growth and acceptance and serves to show you just what Maddie & Tae have learned over the past couple of years. “If it weren’t for Dot Records closing and us having to completely start fresh, we would not have the body of work that we have now,” Maddie Marlow says about their current place in the world, “So, it was a huge blessing in disguise.” Yes, maybe it was, but it’s just a shame that their current record label is limiting them to just a five song snapshot of what was produced during that period.
The story comes to a climax with ‘New Dog, Old Tricks’, the only song on the EP not written by Maddie & Tae, although writers Emily Wiseman, Jesse Frasure and Laura Veltz have contributed a perfect ending to ‘One Heart to Another’. A funky slide guitar opens the song and then a wiser, more sardonic, almost Miranda Lambert-esque vocal delivery tells us all about having to deal with men and their pick-up lines whilst on a girls night out. So, our protagonist has healed now and she’s ready to go back out and enjoy herself, but she’s wiser, she’s harder and she’s learnt from her mistakes – no more picking the wrong guy. ‘Put a leash on it,’ the girls sneer, “I’ve seen this before, I couldn’t be more not impressed.’ This will be another big live song for the duo out on tour with Carrie Underwood. It’s an inclusive song that will resonate with most of the women in the audience and maybe even some of the men too! Bold, brash, fun and funky – it’s the first and only glimpse on this EP of Maddie & Tae’s more humorous, lighter side that we saw a few times on ‘Start Here’ and it works well – closing down both the story and the EP, in a positive and uplifting way.
‘One Heart to Another’ is a great step forward for Maddie & Tae. It re-positions them as grown-up, mature and accomplished songwriters. They are both still only 24 years old this year and so time is well and truly on their side. There is no need to rush something out into the marketplace and I am sure that is why the record company is almost making them start all over again. Let’s hope that the songs that they have tucked away surface at some point after the Carrie Underwood tour when their name and brand recognition will be at its highest because, similar to Cam, who is also a talented writer and superb live performer, it’s a travesty that these women are being held back, four years after the release of such superb debut albums. Let’s get these women’s music out there and let’s find ways around the current radio blockage so that they can prosper and have their voices heard in ways that delight the fans and fill the pockets of the record labels, both at the same time!
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