Less gingham more bling.


Check out the gig listings for some of the grungiest underground hang-outs, and you'll see country-influenced bands on the bill.

Twangs, fiddles and good ol' country love songs are suddenly hip again in "alternative" circles. And for the past four years Taylor Swift has been busy making them cool on the pop charts too - she has even stood up against egos like Kanye West to get them there.

Swift is not yet 21 and originally hails from smalltown Pennyslvania, but she knows what she wants - and gets it. That's why she's been topping international charts three times in a row before she can legally drink (in America).

Swift's made it quite clear that her latest highly-anticipated album is called

Speak Now

, because she believes that people should say what they are thinking. And that's precisely what she does on this impressively mature collection of 14 songs.

Opening with the decidedly catchy single



and the rhythmically verbose

Sparks Fly

, she shows off her ability to scribble a good pop song about boys - boys she likes, boys she hurt, boys who hurt her.


Back to December

is one of her most beautifully dreamy, most sincere and most mature tracks. Lyrics like "This is me swallowing my pride, standing in front of you, saying I'm sorry for that night" are not exactly an easy thing for a 20-year-old to feel, let alone write.

Swift shows off her ever-so-slightly stroppy side in the title track (about an ill-fated marriage), where she hurls insults like "snotty nosed" and "dress like a pastry" at the other woman - these are rather nasty words from the pretty, poised and polite Southern girl.

It is speculated that the angelic, sugar-coated


is actually a dig at Swift's number one hater Kanye West. If that's the case it's a pretty, poised and polite confrontation: if anything, she sounds sorry for the king of bling (or whoever the subject is). Perhaps this is just one example of Swift using her wholesome sweetness to twist things her way.

Yes, she's a good country gal, and she does enjoy a bit of a hoe-down on banjo 'n' clap tracks like


, but it feels as though Swift has taken a few box-steps away from her "Shania Twain" label on this record - it's more varied, as well as more glamorous.

Many of the tracks have the uplifting hair-shake-ability of a great radio-hit, but what appeals about her is that unlike other popstars of her age, she doesn't try to rhyme lyrics for the sake of it, or sex it up when it's just not necessary.

This record had big platinum-coated shoes to fill and it does just that - in fact, someone better quickly fetch her a larger size.