Credit: Carlos Ruiz
by Jonathan Keefe Music Rooted & Restless

Maddie & Tae | The Way It Feels

January 20, 2021

The Way It Feels bears some undeniable deadweight, but also positions Maddie & Tae well to regain their status as queens of country.

With “Die from a Broken Heart,” the second single from The Way It Feels, Maddie & Tae set a dubious record at country radio: Having the longest gap between a first chart-topping single and a second one, thanks to the lengthy span since their “Girl in a Country Song” hit No. 1. It’s not that the duo hasn’t released quality material since then — “Shut Up & Fish” should have been another No. 1, but it petered out in the mid-30s because country radio remains the very worst — but, like most women in the genre, M&T have struggled to gain consistent traction with the fickle tastes and entrenched biases of radio programmers. The Way It Feels looks to reverse that trend — even beyond “Die from a Broken Heart.” The album’s production is straight-down-the-middle, contemporary pop-country; the songs here sound like radio hits. If that means that M&T don’t have a distinctive aesthetic of their own, what does distinguish them are their terrific vocal harmony arrangements and the quality of their songwriting. “One Heart to Another” is one of the loveliest country songs released in 2020; “Friends Don’t” exposes the lie beneath the concept of the “friend zone”; and “I Don’t Need to Know” hinges on some surprising reflections: “The only thing worse than my imagination / Is all these third party observations.” Most every song includes at least one line that commands attention, which offsets some of the monotony of the production. At 15 tracks, there’s some obvious deadweight (“Old Dog, New Tricks” and “Write a Book” could both be cut without losing anything of value), but The Way It Feels positions Maddie & Tae very well to regain their status as one of country’s premier duos.

Published as part of Album Roundup: Oct. – Dec. 2020 | Part 4.