Sixteen-year-old Taylor Swift is at an age where most teenagers are only beginning to find their identity and lay tentative plans for the future. But theres never been much doubt in Taylors mind about her calling. Growing up on a farm in Wyomissing, Pa., music was ever-present in her home. Inspired by her maternal grandmother, a professional opera singer, Taylor took up singing early in life. At 10, she began performing around town at karaoke contests, festivals and county fairs. At age 11, she performed the national anthem at a Philadelphia 76ers NBA game in front of thousands of fans. But it wasnt until she picked up a guitar at age 12 and learned to write her own songs that Taylor discovered how readily she could channel the turbulent emotions of growing up into her music. Before long, she was spending every available moment playing and writing. Since relocating to Nashville with her family at age 13, Taylor has pulled double duty as a straight-A student and full-fledged recording artist. Taylor wrote or co-wrote every song on her debut album and it is produced by Nathan Chapman.
Three years ago, a 13-year old Taylor Swift set out to be a star and moved from Reading, Pennsylvania, to Nashville. By 14, she had a publishing deal, and by 15, a recording contract. In these days of Bianca Ryan (and before her, Tanya Tucker and LeAnn Rimes), many are called, but few are chosen. Swift, it appears, is one of the chosen ones. Her vocal talent is modest, though sweetly affecting, her style seemingly influenced by the radio hits of early Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch, and perhaps Cyndi Thomson. And at times, her youthfulness shows--she encoded messages in the lyrics of her CD booklet, starting with the name of the boy who cheated on her from "Should've Said No" (the album's strongest offering). But in writing or co-writing all 11 songs on this debut, Swift demonstrates remarkable maturity, particularly in crafting a hooky, radio-ready chorus. Though she sounds ridiculous looking back from the perspective of an 87-year old woman on "Mary's Song," to her credit she mostly writes about what she knows--unrequited high-school crushes ("Teardrops on My Guitar"), teenage angst ("Tied Together with a Smile"), and complete immersion in starry-eyed romance (her breakout hit "Tim McGraw"). Swift has such wistful charm and tunefulness that only a curmudgeon could dismiss her, and in fact, more than 60,000 fans lined up to grab this CD the first month of release. No wonder Rascal Flatts and George Strait added her to their tours. Look out, Carrie Underwood--there's a new kid in town. --Alanna Nash