• Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Taylor Swift: the next chapter

Expectations are high for her third album, 'Speak Now.' Unlike her first two records, she wrote all these songs herself. So the thoughts and feelings are pure Taylor.

October 24, 2010|By Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times

Studio A at Capitol Records in Hollywood is the fabled place where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Beach Boys and other stellar names in popular music made some of their most beloved recordings over the last half century.

On an unseasonably pleasant day last summer, however, the artist sitting dead center in front of the imposing 60-channel mixing board was Taylor Swift, the erstwhile teen queen of country-pop music who has dominated sales charts and captured the ears of her generation as firmly as any of her celebrated predecessors.

To Swift's right is Nathan Chapman, the producer she worked with on her multiplatinum 2006 debut album, "Taylor Swift," and its even bigger-selling 2008 follow-up, "Fearless," albums that have sold nearly 11 million copies combined.

On the other side of the glass partition separating the control booth from the studio, leading an orchestra of 28 string players, is Paul Buckmaster, the veteran British conductor-arranger whose string arrangements contributed substantially to the sound and success of Elton John's earliest records as well as more recent recordings by country star Tim McGraw and rock group Train.

It's the first time Swift has used an orchestra on record, and she sounds thrilled with what she's hearing as the violinists, violists and cellists bow edgy accents and dramatic countermelodies on two tracks — "Haunted" and "Back to December" — from her highly anticipated third album, "Speak Now," which will be released Monday worldwide.

"I couldn't sleep last night I was so freaked about this," Swift, 20, whispers nervously to a visitor seated next to her. "You should have seen me all geeky when I saw the names of the new songs on the sheet music out on their music stands. I was like, 'Oh my God, it's happening.'"

Raising expectations

"Speak Now" represents a big musical step for Swift. It's one she's taking with a confidence that's made her a favorite of millions of teen girls as well as many of their parents, just as it's bred a legion of skeptics who argue that no one could remain so genuinely thrilled every time she or he steps in front of a TV camera.

Scott Borchetta, the veteran Nashville music executive who signed her at age 16 to his nascent Big Machine Records label, is impressed at how she's handled the success she's achieved in the last four years, becoming the biggest selling act in all of pop music.

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