Maddie & Tae constructed their initial single, "Girl in a Country Song," as a battle cry camouflaged as satire: it took dead aim at the bros, but the duo smiled as they sank in the shiv. Clever as it was, "Girl in a Country Song" ran the risk of pegging Maddie & Tae as a novelty act but their full-length 2015 debut, Start Here, proves the hit was an opening salvo in a long-term mission to take back the contemporary country airwaves from hunks in tight jeans. Start Here is a proudly female album in addition to being a record that fully embraces the joys and occasional sorrows of being young, smart, funny, and ambitious. Given their precocious, pop-friendly attitude and association with Big Machine Records, it's easy to compare Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye to Taylor Swift, but Maddie & Tae emulate neither the skillful adolescent poetry nor the folky fragility of early Swift. They're an unabashed country act, gliding between heartbreak harmonies and punch lines with aplomb, the gilded ease masquerading the careful craft behind these 11 songs, every one of which bears songwriting credits by the duo. Craft is always a key component of the Nashville machine and producer Dann Huff ensures that Start Here follows the contours of commercial country; this isn't outsider music, this is bright, shiny country that cherishes polish as much as twang. The reason Start Here feels fresh lies entirely with Maddie & Tae, how they're tomboys who wish their boyfriend would just "Shut Up and Fish," how they feel as genuine when they're settling into sentiment on "Fly" as they do on "Sierra" when they pray for the downfall of a mean girl. In another's hands, such scheming could seem crass or nasty but placed in the context of Start Here, where it's surrounded by both sweetness and swagger, it simply adds another dimension to an album that embodies all the complex contradictions and unfettered optimism of modern country-pop in 2015.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine