With a year as full of disappointments as 2020, music lovers might wisely seek refuge in bright, uplifting pop or raucous rock.

But sometimes, an album built around memories, loss, reflection and storytelling, soothes best.

Taylor Swift’s new ‘folklore’ is just that.

“Folklore” finds Swift downshifting from pop mode to an alt-indie singer-songwriter vibe. Its 17 tracks delight the imagination. Equally impressive is the short period of time – just four months – in which they were written.

On many (but not all) songs, Swift worked in isolation mode with longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner of the National. She covers lots of new ground here.

For example, her upbeat “The Last Great American Dynasty” recalls the life of Rebekah Harkness, an heiress and free spirit who once owned Swift’s home in Rhode Island. Scathing, potent “Mad Woman” addresses the artist’s lingering feelings of anger and betrayal at losing her master recordings to music executives Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun. Her compelling “August” evokes romance and nostalgia via a lavish indie rock arrangement.

Album reception

Not surprisingly, “folklore” has broken numerous records. Within a day of the release, 1.3 million copies were sold. It became the most-streamed pop album on Apple Music within 24-hours.  And it reached #1 on iTunes in more than 85 countries.

Also this: Swift is now also the first female artist to have seven albums debut at number one.

Worth pondering is how all of this was achieved although “folklore” had none of the usual pre-album fanfare.

Swift’s fans have chosen “Cardigan” – via streaming services – as the best-selling track from the album. The lush, moody, 4-minute song – embellished with strings and percussion – spotlights Swift’s crooning vocals atop simple piano. Have a listen:

Cardigan

Swift’s “Court and Spark” moment

Swift’s new album brings to mind songwriting icon Joni Mitchell and her 70s “Court and Spark” release. Numerous lines from “folklore” – lyrics like “leaving like a father, running like water“ “tattoo kiss” and “give you my wild, give you a child,“ harken back to the legendary Laurel Canyon songstress in her prime.

Both influential female recording artists are prolific songwriters who’ve explored numerous music genres; both make their homes in southern California.

Given the strength of songwriting, Swifts vocals and harmonies, the breadth of material and the arrangements themselves, “folklore” is certainly a standout on par with “Court and Spark.”

And not only a standout for Swift’s career, but for the year’s music scene, as well.

It’s interesting to note that in the 70s, Joni Mitchell’s superlative “Court & Spark” had to battle it out on Billboard with Bob Dylan’s “Planet Waves.” In Swift’s case, next year’s Grammy’s could easily pit shimmering “folklore” against Bob Dylan’s “Rough & Rowdy Ways,” itself a masterpiece.

No sub-par tracks on this summer surprise

All in all, electronic indie folk might be the best way to describe Swift’s exquisite summer surprise.

There are no sub-par tracks here, though alt-indie fans are sure to love “exile,” a splendidly mournful duo with Bon Iver, and Swift’s golden “August.”

August

In a category all its own is the gut-wrenching “epiphany.” Here, Swift draws parallels between the heroism of soldiers on the battlefield and nurses and doctors on the COVID frontlines. “Epiphany” may be destined for a movie soundtrack.

Last thoughts: you’ll love confessional “Betty” with its touches of harmonica; the beautiful innocence of  “seven,” free-flowing “peace” and romantic album closer, “the lakes.”

It’s been a harsh year, and it’s not over yet.

Might as well sit back, relax with a glass of something cold, and escape to the soothing musical landscapes of Swift’s newest.

Cynthia Orlando
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