By Chuck Arnold Jessica Herndon
November 08, 2010 12:00 PM

Taylor Swift

Speak Now |

COUNTRY-POP

On the standout title track of her third album, Taylor Swift spins a witty tale of busting up a wedding and running away with the groom. Then again, she never holds her peace on Speak Now, the much-anticipated follow-up to her 2008 blockbuster Fearless. Songs play out like journal entries in which the country-pop phenom lets it all out in delicious, narrative-driving detail. On the wistful ballad “Back to December,” Swift seems to be dishing about splitting with Valentine’s Day costar Taylor Lautner in the titular month. “It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you,” she laments. Other songs appear to be true confessions about John Mayer (“Dear John”) and Joe Jonas (“The Story of Us”), with whom Swift has also been linked. Trusting her inner voice-and hers alone-she impressively wrote all 14 tunes by herself. But as a singer, she’s no Miranda Lambert, and the heavy production on cuts like “Haunted”-one of several rockish numbers-can lay it on too thick. No doubt it’s a sound designed to fill the arenas that Swift is sure to headline.

Bryan Ferry

Olympia |

ALT-POP

Need a testament to the eternal chic of Bryan Ferry? The 65-year-old vet got supermodel Kate Moss to be the cover girl for his first album of original material since 2002. On Olympia, Ferry remains a sophisto-pop god, a master of the moody groove. Highlights include the sultry “Alphaville,” one of four cuts with former Roxy Music mate Brian Eno on synths, and the melancholy “Heartache by Numbers,” featuring some other cool Ferry fans: Flea and Scissor Sisters.

Elton John & Leon Russell

The Union |

POP

It’s 1970 all over again when Elton John reunites with long-ago tourmate Leon Russell. The inspired result is even better than another T Bone Burnett-produced pairing, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, on Raising Sand. With John and Russell on dueling pianos, this old-timers’ love-in also features Neil Young, Brian Wilson and Stax soul man Booker T. Jones. Plus there’s a gospel choir helping to take it all higher on righteous songs like the honky-tonkish “Hey Ahab.”

CRITIC’S CHOICE

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