Personnel: Taylor Swift (vocals, guitar); Nathan Chapman (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, keyboards); Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar, mandolin); Grant Mickelson, Kenny Greenberg (electric guitar); Ilya Toshinsky (banjo); Claire Indie (cello); Tony Harrell (piano, Hammond b-3 organ, keyboards); Tim Lauer (keyboards); Eric Darken (vibraphone); Tim Marks, Amos Heller (bass guitar).
Audio Mixer: Justin Niebank.
Arranger: Jonathan Yudkin.
Taylor Swift abandons any pretense that she's a teen on her second album, FEARLESS--which isn't to say that she suddenly tarts herself up, running away from her youth in a manner that's all too familiar to many teen stars. Swift's maturation is deliberate and careful, styled after the crossover country-pop of Shania Twain and Faith Hill before they turned into divas. Despite the success of her self-titled 2006 debut, there's nothing at all diva-like about Swift on FEARLESS: she's soft-spoken and considerate, a big sister instead of a big star. Nowhere is this truer than on "Fifteen," a kind warning for a teen to watch her heart sung from the perspective of a woman who's perhaps twice that age--a sly trick for the 18-year-old Swift. There may be a hint of youthfulness to her singing but that's the only hint of girlishness here; her writing--and she had a hand in penning all 13 tracks here, with six of them bearing her solitary credit--is sharply, subtly crafted and the music is softly assured, never pushing its hooks too hard. Like many country-pop albums of the 2000s, the pop heavily outweighs the country--there aren't fiddles here, there are violins--yet the production never feels garish, a crass attempt at a crossover success. It's small-scale and sweetly tuneful, always seeming humble even when the power ballads build to a big close. Swift's gentle touch is as enduring as her songcraft, and this musical maturity may not quite jibe with her age but it does help make FEARLESS one of the best mainstream pop albums of 2008.