Everyone from die hard fans to causal observers can plainly see that there is a serious problem in the mainstream country music genre. Women are not getting air play or streaming spots on major playlists and this has a knock on effect on chart placing, touring and festival bills. A few years back Maddie and Tae managed the impossible by breaking into the charts with Girl In a Country Song, which hilariously sent up the sexism of the industry and the bro country tropes. They followed that up with a well received debut album and yet here we are four years later, still waiting on a second album, while endless faceless male nobodies hit the charts with ease. The fact that this new release, One Heart to Another, is only an EP is a little disappointing but it is a relief to finally hear new material from the duo, plus the bonus news is that they have been invited to go on tour with Carrie Underwood.
Originally intended to be a concept album taking us through the entirety of a relationship breakdown, this EP is left with the bones of that idea as its structure. There’s something different and unusual about the way they tell the story of falling in love on Friends Don’t – the vulnerability in the heart of this situation really rings true. The songwriting is quality, it sounds modern but there’s some nice country touches too.
The other song that really made me want to write about the EP is the second track Die of A Broken Heart. It’s a masterpiece of quiet desperation, with subtle acoustic tones and steel guitar. What makes this song is the little details that describe the aftermath of a relationship breakdown – the black mascara on the pillow, the slammed door, the car driving away, the knees giving out from praying too hard. Singing the song in the second person, direct to their mama, makes it sound so devastatingly real. If you haven’t felt this kind of pain, then you’re really damn lucky. Already a success on streaming platforms this song has been made their next single from fan power alone, which is heartening.
Tourist in This Town continues the story of heartbreak, with the narrator lost and lonely in the place they used to call home. It has echoes in the sound of Brandy Clark’s ‘Girl Next Door’ and like that song it’s smarter than most of what you hear on country radio. The other real classic country sounding song on the EP is the title track One Heart to Another, a tearjerker about a real jerk. This song in particular showcases the great harmony work of this underrated duo.
Interesting that the only song the pair didn’t have a hand in writing is New Dog, Old Tricks – probably the weakest on the EP even if they sell it with some serious sass. The narrative of the story finishes with a new beginning – and a fresh dose of cynicism. It’s clear they won’t be falling for the wrong guy again in a hurry. Maybe this song isn’t a natural fit with the other more serious tracks on the EP but it’s fun and successfully recaptures the humour of their earlier work.
The only problem I have with this release is that it is just too short. Eps are fine as a stop gap but surely after four years the duo have enough songs for a whole album? Part of the delay with this release involved issues with record labels and you do begin to wonder if it is even worth it to have a major deal nowadays. If there’s no place for young women on country radio then they will have to make careers for themselves out on the road – and that means consistently releasing albums and touring hard. Crowd funding and doing things yourself might be tough but if this kind of release schedule is the alternative then it has to be a better option.
The songs on this EP feel like they come from a really honest place, reflecting the hard work that Maddie and Tae have put into their music. I hope more listeners will give them a chance and support talented women in country music because they need it and, more importantly, they deserve it.