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Maddie & Tae’s Trend-Bucking Debut Praised By Lee Ann Womack, Scott Borchetta

The first line in Maddie & Tae's debut album, "Rain, you ain't gonna slow me down," speaks volumes about what listeners will hear in the course of its 11 songs.

The first line in Maddie & Tae‘s debut album, “Rain, you ain’t gonna slow me down,” speaks volumes about what listeners will hear in the course of its 11 songs.

Lead singer Maddie Marlow and her harmony-singing cohort, left-handed guitarist Tae Dye, are not afraid of a little adversity. And as Start Here — the first album on the reactivated Dot label, due Aug. 28 — unwinds, they confront plenty of it: misguided, grabby boys in “Shut Up and Fish”; high-school bullies in “Sierra”; fear of the unknown in “Fly”; and bro-country stereotypes in “Girl in a Country Song.”


When they named names in the latter track, Maddie & Tae shocked a lot of observers by bucking two trends at once. Not only did they dismiss the passel of recent testosterone-fueled hits that objectify women, but they also became that rare female entity to find success in the recent era of male domination. “Girl in a Country Song” used cheeky humor to slash its way to No. 1 on Country Airplay, while the more thoughtful ballad “Fly” — at No. 12 on the current list — is the highest-ranked single featuring a female lead. Cam‘s “Burning House,” trailing at No. 23, and Carrie Underwood‘s “Smoke Break,” at No. 24, are the only songs by a solo female in the top 25, continuing a trend from the last several years.

Working from the heart of Music Row, Maddie & Tae couldn’t help but be aware of the atmosphere in which they were being launched. But they didn’t intend to let that slow them down. Instead, they focused on finding their own identity and — much the way Taylor Swift did when she introduced herself — on telling stories that came straight from their own experiences. 

“Saying things that are real and true and real life, I think that really matters,” says Marlow. “I encourage people who are going after this career to find something that’s different and unique, and just go after that. That’s going to resonate so much better than pretending to be what’s cool or hip right now.”

“Real” is a key word. When the Big Machine Label Group (BMLG) threw an album launch party for the duo on Aug. 18, the twosome rendered the harmonies from their set with an admirable precision. The soiree included a surprise appearance from noted traditionalist Lee Ann Womack, whose ultra-positive “I Hope You Dance” was a significant influence on the pair, who were but 4 years old when that song was released in 2000. 

“The thing I love most about these girls right here is that at a time when so much focus is on other things, these girls seem to really focus on the music,” said Womack.

Indeed, the music has been at the heart of their rise since before that ascent was evident to the world at large. While still living at home in Oklahoma with her family, Dye was fascinated by harmony, particularly because she found it so difficult.

“My dad and I would get in the car, and he would put on a song and be like, ‘Can you hear that?’ ” she recalls. “He would start singing the harmony, and I was like, ‘Dad, I cannot hear it!'”

But the Dixie Chicks, one of the dominant acts of that time, made lush, three-part harmony sound so natural that she continued to strive for it.

“I remember at the time thinking that was insane and impossible and only an alien could do that,” says Dye with a laugh. “It’s funny to see now, because harmonies are like the first things I hear, and it was something I’ve developed in the last couple years.”

That change in confidence level is the result of intense work. Big Machine Music vp Mike Molinar signed Marlow and Dye to songwriting contracts when they were 17, believing that with concentrated effort, they had a chance to become a bona fide act. They took every co-writing opportunity they could, and BMLG president/CEO Scott Borchetta routinely heard from songwriters and publishers about the duo’s level of talent and their relentless work ethic.

“Nashville is better than anybody when it comes to artist development,” said Borchetta at the release party. “And that’s what this story is about.”

Aaron Scherz — who co-wrote five of the album’s 11 tracks, including “Girl in a Country Song” — dedicated more than a year of his life to getting them ready, and he co-produced much of the album with Dann Huff (Keith Urban, The Band Perry), who thought they were close to a finished product when they reached his doorstep.

“This is not tricks,” says Huff. “That’s why I’m really loving the fact that ‘Fly’ is being heard. In our format, there’s a wide variety of things that are going on, and I think they’re kind of a singular voice at this point.”

Despite the effort in development to date, the album title, Start Here, is apropos, since they’re at the very beginning in the public’s mind. Plus, they’re still on a learning curve. They’ve spent last few months, in fact, observing Dierks Bentley on the Sounds of Summer Tour.

“We just learn so much — how he communicates with the crowd, almost like he’s speaking with them and not to them,” Dye notes. “It’s really cool to pick up on those things.”

Those lessons will likely help this fall on their own Start Here club tour, their first headlining run, which launches Oct. 7 in New York City. The concerts are likely to instill jitters. But that’s just another form of rain. It ain’t gonna slow them down.

“All the experience,” says Marlow, “is gonna be really great for the long-term.”

This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.