Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift (Universal, 2006)
     Fearless (Universal, 2008)

When the Dixie Chicks bashed Bush and fell from Nashville grace in 2003, a huge space opened up in the heart of the country audience. Who was gonna make catchy honky-tonk hits for the red state soccer moms? Stars like Gretchen Wilson and Carrie Underwood partially filled that void, but Taylor Swift has completely filled it, adding a little something for their soccer daughters with a sound that's not just rock-informed but teen-poppy too. The blue-eyed teenage bombshell writes her own songs, plays guitar, and drops boy-crazed salvos while working a brutally honest, vulnerable side that gives her hyper-professional craft an autobiographical edge. She's the Tammy Wynette of t.m.i.

All of 16 when she released her self-titled debut in 2006, Swift came out of the gate sounding bright-eyed but remarkably seasoned. On Taylor Swift, producer Scott Borchetta hones a mix of trad-country instruments and spry rock guitars. The break-up anthem "Tim McGraw" and the supple ballad "Teardrops On My Guitar" stake out her romantic territory and the huge hit "Our Song" breaks new ground with insanely hooky sing-song melody that's as Britney as it is Patsy. It's no wonder the disc sold nearly five million copies, even in these industry end-times.

Fearless, which was the top-selling album of 2009, sets its starkly honest descriptions of love-crushed vertigo ("Abigail gave everything she had to a boy/Who changed his mind/And we both cried") to thrilling pop anthems that effortlessly fuse styles while sounding natural, as if Swift is her own genre. "Tell Me Why" has whiff of Third Eye Blind's "Semi Charmed Life," and throw a house beat under "Forever and Always" and you've got an ace Katy Perry song. Swift seems to have studied a decade or so of pop radio to come up with the perfect song formulas. But her music never sounds impersonal or focus-grouped; she uses these sounds to give her the biggest platform possible from which to air her boy angst. On "The Way I Loved You" she drops a nice guy who "talks business with my father" for a dude who knows how to make out in the rain, on "White Horse" she gets some of the same wicked treatment herself. And then there's the mega-hit "You Belong to Me," where she's her dream dude's best friend and his maniac stalker. In Taylor Swift's world the princes are a little more regal, the prom gowns are a little fancier, and the kisses go on until long after the string section packs up and heads home. And the dreams are so real it hurts.

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