All four songs from Matt Hires' first EP, Live from the Hotel Café, make additional appearances on his full-length debut, which expands the songwriter's acoustic sound into something slick and polished. As before, the quaver in Hires' voice is both endearing and somewhat maddening, veering toward the latter whenever it disappears and reappears at will. Songs like "Listen to Me Now" effectively mask that vocal tic with sheer energy, however, and Sara Bareilles lends her harmonies to "You in the End," smoothing out her novice friend's voice while providing some commercial star power. Take Us to the Start sounds best at its most brisk, when Hires trades the coffeehouse aspirations of his slower songs for something more akin to driving, mainstream pop/rock. The bulk of this debut album is filled with semi-ballads, though, whose leisurely pace allows Hires more room to indulge a bit too heavily in the influence of his Hotel Café contemporaries. As such, Take Us to the Start is an average singer/songwriter album from 2009, good enough to maintain a loyal fan base but lacking the unique quirks of Ingrid Michaelson and Meiko.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey