13 November 2008

Swift and Fearless

There are a number of other recent record releases that I have good intentions to blog about, and I'm sure I'll get to at least a few of those eventually. But at the moment, I've got to comment on the new Taylor Swift record, Fearless, which appeared in stores earlier this week.

I'm guessing this had to be one of the most anticipated country records of the year. No doubt it is categorized as "country," though a recent conversation has had me wondering what that really means. Taylor certainly isn't twangy or hackneyed, if that's what people think of as "country." She has a kind of folk rock feel to her, and modern pop rock sensibilities and sounds; yet, there are also those qualities and chracteristics that I most appreciate about country music.

Taylor has chops, and she knows how to use them effectively. The production seems a bit thin to me at times, but not enough so to detract. Overall, there could maybe stand to be a little more variety in the sound of the songs, but that isn't to say that everything sounds alike, either. Taylor's greatest strength is her songwriting; she either wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on Fearless (as also on her debut record). I believe she is still in her teens, but what is perhaps most remarkable is that her writing demonstrates a depth of emotion and a maturity that are often missing in popular music of any genre. She writes about those things in life that she actually knows from experience; which coincides with the typical topics of boys and girls, and school and family, and dreams and plans for the future. The difference is that Taylor seems to have a knack for writing about these things with genuine emotion and insight, so that her songs resonate with real sincerity, and they are interesting, rather than clichéd or contrived. It helps, of course, that she not only writes these songs, but is also able to perform them well.

I've just gotten this record within the last two days, but already I've listened to it half a dozen times (or more), as I've been riding around in my car making visits and running errands. Wow! This is just great. Comparisons to Avril Lavigne and Carrie Underwood would not be misplaced; that also suggests the genre-straddling sound of Fearless. Again, a richer and warmer production quality would have helped, perhaps, but that is my closest thing to a critique, and no one should be disuaded from checking it out. There's not a dud on the record, but there are more than several real gems to be found. Some of these may already be getting radio airplay, but since I rarely listen to the radio I don't know.

How do I narrow down my favorite songs? It would be easy enough to list fully half of them, but I'll discipline myself to name just five of the thirteen tracks: "Fifteen," "Love Story," "Hey Stephen," "You Belong with Me," and "The Best Day." The last of these is a very touching song to Taylor's mother, and it strikes a perfect chord; instead of treacly, it's lovely and quite moving. Seriously, Taylor Swift has a gift for songwriting, and she has served her craft well on Fearless. I wouldn't say this is the best record of the year, but I'd put it in the top three, easily.


Anan said...

I think I've listened to it more than a half dozen times, since 9 Tuesday night... :P

My favorites are among your own, but I can narrow them down to "Love Story", "Hey Stephen", and "You Belong With Me". "Hey Stephen" has some sentimental value to me I guess.

Dare I say that I think the album is sorta Vanessa Carlton-esque?

"ricalina" Neat.

Anan said...

Oh I guess I missed one: "That's the Way I Love You".

chaplain7904 said...

Rick, I didn't know you were such an afficianado of pop culture. Here I thought you were just a dusty old doctor.

You hit it with Taylor Swift, she's got "choppy" down to a science. The "screen door" song makes her sound insouciant in the extreme.

I like "Love Story" a lot.

She's going places.

Nat said...

Heh, you call them "records."

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Well, sure, Nathaniel. They're all still records, irrespective of the media on which they happen to be stored and played.

Anna, I concur with your Vanessa Carlton comparison. I also guessed that "Hey Stephen" might appeal to you. I must have missed what "ricalina" is. Which song?

I'm not sure I qualify as an afficianado, Chaplain, but I do enjoy pop culture (or, parts of it. anyway). There is something fresh and compelling about Taylor Swift. We'll see where she goes from here. The challenge for her, as for many other young "celebrities," is staying grounded in the real life that she is presently able to write and sing about so well. How does one maintain that "normalcy," when everyday life become so rarified?