|Swift's ''Fearless'' fits somewhere between commercial country and Top 40. (damian dovarganes/associated press)|
To hear Taylor Swift tell it, she's had some seriously bad luck with boys. They don't notice her sly glances from afar. They don't apologize when they've taken her for granted. Sometimes, when they're too perfect, they bore her.
And this is all before the age of 19.
Youth, it turns out, is the rising country star's greatest asset. But it's her knack for dissecting it so honestly that separates her from the pack of teenage starlets who rely on big-name producers, songwriters, and Disney shows for a music career.
Swift is the rare ingenue who actually plays the part (and guitar). She's 18 - wide-eyed, naive, hopeful - and that's how she sounds on "Fearless," her superb new album out tomorrow on the indie label Big Machine Records. It's her sophomore splash after her 2006 self-titled debut became a sleeper hit, selling more than 3 million copies and snagging her a Grammy nomination for best new artist.
This time out, though, Swift has even greater aspirations, with songs sure to blur the line between commercial country and Top 40 radio. In fact, much of "Fearless" sounds like a page torn from "The Dixie Chicks: The High School Years." For every mandolin or fiddle, there's an electric guitar squealing or a wash of strings swelling up on the chorus. Only a slight drawl creeps into Swift's vocals, which for some is the definition of country music.
Mostly, though, Swift's charm is her songwriting. She knows how to write a hit. On "Love Story," the first single, Swift casts herself as Juliet pining for her starstruck lover: "Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone/ I'll be waiting/ All there's left to do is run/ You'll be the prince, and I'll be the princess/ It's a love story, baby, just say yes." The song's video features Swift dolled up in Victorian garb with Justin Gaston, Miley Cyrus's model boyfriend, on loan to play Romeo.
Swift gets a few songwriting assists (Liz Rose, Colbie Caillat), but the album's most interesting songs are the ones Swift wrote alone. You can practically see the lyrics for "Fifteen" scribbled in a diary, chronicling Swift's freshman year in high school. "In your life you'll do things greater than dating the boy on the football team/ But I didn't know it at 15," she sings with palpable regret. Hindsight apparently comes early for Swift.
"The Best Day" also happens to be the best song. A musical valentine about how great Mom and Dad are, it's understated enough to go unnoticed, but then you realize it sounds like nothing else on "Fearless." After an entire album of wide-open choruses, it's refreshing to hear Swift tell her story simply. If the melody doesn't stick in your mind, the message at least speaks to the heart.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.