(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel's Hot Dish: Cookin' With Country Stars, she also hosts CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at CMT.com.)
Until she giggles like a teenybopper or squeals, "Awesome," one would think they were speaking with an adult on the phone and not with 18-year-old Taylor Swift. You just cannot believe that the voice on the other end of the line belongs to the tall, slender girl with the long, blonde curls.
And if she wasn't singing about boys she's known or her best friend Abigail or driving a truck or other teenage stuff, you'd think she was older than she truly is. After talking with Taylor and long after hanging up the phone, it hits you that a conversation with her is like talking with someone who is past her 20s, not approaching 20 in a couple years.
During the financial meltdown that affects us all, especially in the music biz, her 2006 debut album has sold more than 3 million copies and remains on the charts, still selling in huge numbers every week. Her second album, Fearless, will be in the stores on Tuesday (Nov. 11). Two tracks from the new album, "Fearless" and "Love Story," have already charted. Samples of both songs have been available for streaming on Taylor's MySpace page -- the page that's had more than 95 million hits. You'd expect as much from country music's first MySpace star.
I don't know Taylor's parents, but I cannot help but wonder about how they raised her. She was so into writing songs and singing that her parents packed up -- lock, stock and guitars while leaving not a lyric behind -- to move from Pennsylvania to Tennessee when Taylor was all of 13 years old. What if they hadn't? Well, Taylor would not have lined up to vote in Gallatin, Tenn., where she signed autographs while waiting to cast her ballot. A smart girl, Taylor would not reveal which candidate got her support. And if the Swifts had not encouraged their daughter's music, her face would not have a "milk moustache" in advertisements running in virtually every magazine on the supermarket rack.
It was pure, honest-to-God luck that Taylor ended up on the Big Machine record label, whose owner, Scott Borchetta, apparently did not "mess" with her songs. He did not call in co-writers with fancy track records to doctor her lyrics, and he didn't call up some West Coast record producer to record Taylor's vocals one word at a time. It was a Music Row project. Taylor wrote her own songs and sang them.
For the most part, Rolling Stone magazine snubs Music Row. They give country albums very little space and, more often than not, few stars when they assign ratings at the top of their reviews. With Taylor's Fearless, they not only muscled up four stars, they actually listened to the music enough so they could quote lyrics. I was impressed with that.
Taylor thinks deeper and wider than most 18-year-olds. For instance, when she wrote "Love Story," she had a vision of a video taking place in the 1700s or 1800s with a castle and ball gowns. Wait until you see the video. It's amazing.
In choosing the title of her new album, Taylor wasn't saying she was scared but that she had fear -- but jumped in anyway. Her favorite song on the album is "15," the age when she met her best friend Abigail who has been the one constant in her life even though she is now in college in Kansas. Abigail remains Taylor's best friend, but Kellie Pickler is her newest close friend. "Kellie's such a fighter, but does it with lip gloss and a smile," laughed Taylor. "But I'm in touch with Abigail daily. We video-chat on our laptops."
I called this "The Swift Kick" because Taylor left me with more than an interview. She gave me a swift kick in the behind. She shoved me into digging deeper to see and understand why she's who she is. She uses the terms "awesome" and "amazing" a lot, but the most awesome and amazing gal around these days is Taylor Swift.
You must tune in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Tuesday (Nov. 11) for Taylor's surprise album release party that was taped this week. You will learn what a wimp Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers is. How he said "it's over" on the phone to Taylor, taking all of 27 seconds to deliver the message. To me, that is Jerk Jonas! But after she talked about that on the show, Ellen gave her a huge surprise when she brought out one of Taylor's favorite singers and musicians -- a guy named Justin Timberlake.
Hollywood's K.C. Comes to Nashville
In capital letters and highlights came the news that actor Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West, would perform Saturday (Nov. 8) on the Grand Ole Opry and Tuesday (Nov. 11) on the Chevy Stage outside the Sommet Center in downtown Nashville on the day before the CMA Awards.
As usual, everybody in Nashville is oohing and aahing over a movie star. Costner is headlining the concert at the Sommet Center, and several acts will be performing before he does, including the Eli Young Band and Heidi Newfield, who's working hard on a solo career after leaving the band, Trick Pony. And also on the bill is Rodney Atkins, who has given this town the 10 best years of his life. He wore out boots on the sidewalks of Music Row trying to get attention and finally got a break. Good luck to Hollywood's K.C., but if the truth be known, the K.C. I am into is Kenny Chesney. I am just not that impressed with actors going country just because the going is good.
Prayers and Good Thoughts for Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard is currently resting and recovering from lung surgery in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. It was discovered during a biopsy that he had non-small cell lung cancer, which reportedly has a far better cure rate than the small cell cancer. The doctors believe they have removed all of the tumor, but tests are still ongoing. One pathologist who reviewed the biopsy noted that very often surgery cures this form of disease.
Merle and his family are respectfully asking for privacy at this time, but you can be sure that your prayers and good thoughts will be very much appreciated.
A Special Guest With a Special Book
You'll enjoy CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith on Sunday (Nov. 16) with my very special guest, Lance Smith. He's best known for bringing music videos into the homes of America on CMT's Top 20 Countdown, but now the talented Lance has written a marvelous children's book, The Old Man and the Cat. It's recommended for ages 4-7. However, our favorite 3-year-old, Mattie Lyn, loved it when I read to her from the book. While reading to Mattie, I thought of my late friend Shel Silverstein, whose wonderful children's books are still in high demand. Like Shel's books, Lance's The Old Man and the Cat is for thinking children with a penchant for learning.
Some Final Thoughts
By the time you read this, the CMA Awards will be almost here. SESAC and BMI will be ready to announce their songwriter awards. Our Thanksgiving menu is planned. It is my deepest hope and prayer that 2008 will have a peaceful and happy ending.
Our economy needs healing, Wall Street needs a hard kick in the pants, but most of all Obama and, yes, McCain and their constituents, need to read off the same page and work together to lead the leaders of this nation back to faith, assurance and prosperity like we once were. Then the U.S.A., the greatest nation on earth, will be respected and admired again around the world. United, we can do it. And good country music can set the pace and help run the race. Nothing is more healing than music. Sing it with pride, boys and girls. And let freedom ring!
See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Pumpkin Cheesecake.