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Swift’s sophomore album succeeds

Lillian Civantos | Thursday, March 19, 2009

There is no doubt that Taylor Swift is one of the most impressive young artists of 2008. She was completely unknown three short years ago, but has built success through hard work and sheer talent. Her first album, the self-titled “Taylor Swift,” is beloved for its instantly likeable sound. “Fearless,” released in 2008, lives up to the hype and delivers the same fresh sound that fans love.

Each song on “Fearless” can stand alone as an excellent tune. The tracks are easy listening, and most are quite catchy. There is no denying Swift’s talent vocally and on guitar and piano. And again, just like on her debut, Swift’s sound resembles light pop more than stereotypical country western.

A few tracks really stand out from the crowd. Most readers are probably already familiar with “Love Story,” and don’t need a description of its lyrical strength. The track was a hit single well before “Fearless” was released. Although some consider it the best song on the album, several others give “Love Story” a run for its money.

Track three, “Hey Stephen,” is a flirty, sparkling number about Taylor’s secret crush on singer Stephen Barker Liles of the country band Love and Theft. The song informed the real-life Stephen of Swift’s feelings for him.

The title track, “Fearless,” is another contender. It is characterized by strong guitar, played by Taylor herself, and powerful lyrics. Track six, “You Belong With Me,” is a playful take on unrequited love. It is melodious, lighthearted and thoroughly enjoyable. “Best Day” is another of the album’s strongest offerings, a genuine tribute to Swift’s family, especially her mother.

The album becomes slower towards the end. Each of these measured songs alone is great, but together they start to sound similar. The common themes and consistent sounds make such songs begin to feel repetitive over time. Most of the songs on the album are slow-moving and soft, and individually they sound beautiful. Still, the album contains too many slow numbers in close succession. And truthfully, Swift is at her best when she reveals her inner sparkle with a faster pace.

As always, Swift is honest and self-reflective in her singing and song writing. This may explain the downbeat trend in “Fearless,” which was, unsurprisingly, based on actual events in Swift’s life. The young singer-songwriter broke up with boyfriend Joe Jonas while “Fearless” was being recorded. Track 11, “Forever & Always,” is specifically about Jonas and their relationship. The majority of the album’s songs have fairly sad, “love-slipped-away” sorts of themes, and many could be played repeatedly after a break-up.

Swift is recognized as a pioneer of the new generation in country music. Her style is nothing like the typical down-home sound of “country western” – for that style, try Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton. Rather, Taylor Swift is a member of the new “country pop” or “southern rock” style that is a mix of country, rock, and pop. Rascal Flatts is another example of this growing genre. Swift’s style is more evocative of Michelle Branch than Merle Haggard. She has been compared to Norah Jones and Colbie Caillat, with whom she collaborated for track seven, “Breathe.”

If you’re looking for a light and likeable album from one of the hottest young artists in the country, you will love “Fearless.” And if you’re looking to for a weepy post-break-up ballad, the album is also for you. Tissues not included.

Contact Lillian Civantos at lcivanto@nd.edu