At this point, Taylor Swift is only nominally a country artist. Though the country world likes to claim her as a success story, and she was certainly initially processed in the Nashville machine, her vision has always gone beyond the genre's limits. (As a Pennsylvania native, she's a Yankee anyways.)
She continues to incorporate a little twang in her live performances and still rocks mainstream country's requisite female hairstyle -- blonde and wavy -- but the songs are, at their core, pop-rock. Or just pop -- see any of the various remixes of her past hits floating around to see that they'll work in virtually any general genre.
To wit, check out her opening act on her current tour, NEEDTOBREATHE. Like Swift herself, this four-piece band is currently based in Nashville. Similarly to Swift, they also straddle all three of the major arms of that city's music industry -- roots sounds, singer-songwriter craft, and Christian pop. That is to say, NEEDTOBREATHE is a band that surely sounds purely American, full of jangly strumming, harmonica breakdowns, and arena-size choruses. It's a little like Bruce Springsteen gone south of the Mason-Dixon line .... if he loved Jesus but didn't necessarily talk about it all the time.
Though the foursome's been racking up Christian industry GMA Dove Awards for years, 2011 might be when it finally crosses over into the mainstream. NEEDTOBREATHE's radio-friendly introspection has made it particularly ripe for use as cinematic mood music, with songs placed in shows from The Biggest Loser to Cougar Town to The Hills. Thanks to that media velocity, "The Outsiders," the lead single from its 2009 studio album of the same name, debuted at number on the Billboard 200. A new album for Atlantic Records is due out this fall.
You can score it for free below in advance of the band's local performance with Swift, two nights in a row next week at the BankAtlantic Center. Follow the link and enter your e-mail address for the legal track, and watch an acoustic performance of the song below. (Just don't read the comments on its actual YouTube page if you want to preserve most of your faith in humanity.)
NEEDTOBREATHE, with Taylor Swift. 7 p.m. Thursday, June 2 and Friday, June 3 at BankAtlantic Center, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. Tickets cost $38.75 to $85.25. Visit ticketmaster.com