Personnel: Taylor Swift (guitar); Ilya Toshinsky (acoustic guitar, banjo); Gary Burnette (electric guitar); Scotty Sanders, Bruce Bouton (dobro); Jeff Hyde (banjo); Andy Leftwich (mandolin, fiddle); Lex Price (mandolin); Rob Hajacos, Wanda Vick (fiddle); Tony Harrell (keyboards); Shannon Forrest (drums); Eric Darken (percussion); Robert Ellis Orrall, Liana Manis (background vocals).
All of 16 when she recorded this debut album, country-pop singer Taylor Swift's considerably strong voice straddles that precarious edge that both suggests experience far beyond her years and simultaneously leaves no doubt that she's still got a lot of life to live. It's a fresh, still girlish voice, full of hope and na?vet?, but it's also a confident and mature one. That Swift is a talent to be reckoned with is never in doubt: her delivery on tracks like the uptempo "The Outside," the spare acoustic ballad "Mary's Song (Oh My My My)," and especially the leadoff track, "Tim McGraw," which was the first single from the album, is that of a seasoned pro, despite Swift's newcomer status. "Tim McGraw" may also be the album's highlight -- not a teenager's tribute to the country superstar, it instead uses McGraw as a marker in a lover's time line: "When you think Tim McGraw/I hope you think my favorite song." It's a device that's been used countless times in as many ways, that of associating a failed affair with items, places, and people, yet it works as a hook here and manages to come off as an original idea. Swift wrote or co-wrote every song on the record, a fairly remarkable feat considering the sophisticated manner in which she treats matters near and dear to the heart of one her age ("Now that I'm sitting here thinking it through/I've never been anywhere cold as you"). Producer/mentor Nathan Chapman has applied to some of Swift's songs a gloss that not all of them really require and in some cases would do better to shed. But Swift has no trouble overcoming any blandness taking place around her. She's come up with a commendable starter album that's as accomplished as any by a ten-year veteran who's seen a lot more road and felt a lot more emotion. Swift's young age may be a major point of interest in bringing listeners in, but by the end of the record she's succeeded in keeping them. [Big Machine reissued the album with bonus tracks in 2008.] ~ Jeff Tamarkin