It’s become clearer that Taylor Swift is making her re-recordings of her older catalog as close to the originals as possible, but the question arises: How difficult is that to pull off without the original musicians?
Now that credits have been made available, it’s evident that Swift is using some of the O.G. players, when possible, instead of trying to get the same sounds with ringers. Although it remains to foretell what the future holds as Swift makes her way through her entire six-album Big Machine catalog, it’s interesting to see several names familiar to credit-scanners from 2008 show up in 2021.
On “Love Story (Taylor’s Version),” released late Thursday night, three players from the old-school studio sessions are back… and might be expected to appear on other tracks when the full re-do of the “Fearless” album comes out April 9. Jonathan Yudkin is back on fiddle, Caitlin Evanson has returned as a harmony vocalist and Amos Heller resumed his original role on bass.
Moreover, the Christopher Rowe who’s credited as her co-producer on the new “Love Story” is the same Nashville-based Chris Rowe who worked on remixes for the original “Fearless” project 13 years ago.
The fact that Swift and Rowe co-produced means, of course, that original producer Nathan Chapman is not part of the new project, although that’s believed to be more the result of practical considerations than any hate story. (More on that later.)
In a video clip released to country radio, Swift said, “One fun thing about re-recording ‘Love Story’ is that I really wanted my touring band to get a chance to play on this version because they spent a lot of them spent years playing this song over and over again. So it was really important to me to have my band who have toured with and shared a stage with for so many years playing on the record. But we also have Jonathan Yudkin, the original fiddle player, we’ve got Caitlin Evanson in the original backup vocalist, and I think it’s really really great that it’s a combination of the originals and people who have been sweating on stages with me for over a decade playing on this album.”
“Very honored to be a part of this,” wrote Heller on Instagram. “This was the one that changed everything, and I’m proud to be a part of the next chapter of this song’s life. Thanks for letting it in to your lives.” Wrote Evanson: @taylorswift, I’m so honored to again, be a part of this magic we made so long ago. Thanks a million💋.”
Beyond performing on the original album, Heller and Evanson have gone on to tour in Swift’s band over the years — with Evanson playing fiddle as well as doing backup vocals on tour — so it was no stretch to see them return in the studio, having played “Love Story” on the road hundreds of times.
But there are a lot of parts not played by the original musician… partly because so many of the instruments and backing vocals on the original “Fearless” album were performed by Chapman, who did not make the return trip.
Some fans were quick to jump on Chapman’s absence as an indication that there is bad blood between the star and the helmer who produced or co-produced her first four albums, but sources indicate there’s no been no real rift there.
There’s a fairly obvious reason why Chapman might not have been part of these sessions: He’s still involved in producing records for Big Machine artists, and with Swift having been clear that she’s doing these re-recordings to try to wipe the Big Machine versions of her music off the map, whether she invited him to participate or not, his doing work for both warring parties would likely represent an untenable conflict of interest.
Chapman just produced a new EP for a Big Machine freshman artist, 17-year-old Callista Clark (including songs co-written by another major “Fearless” veteran, Liz Rose). The release date for Clark’s debut also happened to be Friday.
When “Fearless: Taylor’s Version” comes out in April, it’s already established from the preliminary track listing released on pre-order pages that Colbie Caillat will be back, too, recreating her duet part from the original 2008 version of the song “Breathe.”
Suspense thus builds over how many original participants from other Big Machine-era Swift albums will show up to redo their magic, too, as the releases roll out one by one. Will her other duet partners or featured guests from that era — Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar and Gary Lightbody — also be up for reprising their roles?
It’s easy to imagine Jack Antonoff, who first worked with her on “1989” and has continued on as one of her most trusted associates through the recent “Evermore,” being eager to leap into copycatting his own production work and playing. But what about Max Martin redoing his co-producing on significant parts of “”Reputation,” “1989” and “Red”? How about Shellback, Ryan Tedder, Imogen Heap, Jeff Bhasker, Butch Walker, Dan Wilson, Jacknife Lee and others who got on board to co-produce at least a track or three?
What’s clear is that Swift is such a skilled self-mimic, and had so much to do with the sound of these original records as their architect and co-producer, that she ought to be able to recreate them regardless of who does or doesn’t make a return to the fold (aside from duet parts, obviously). But there’s also no doubt that, besides maybe abbreviating the task of creation, having former collaborators return to the fold adds to the fun, intrigue and cachet for her fans.
Reaction to “Taylor’s Version” of “Love Story” among those fans has been mostly positive, with the spotting of differences between the two more a matter of a kind of forensic science and/or philosophical considerations.
Industry essayist Bob Lefsetz, Swift’s most famous hater, was, as one would expect… mean. Contrary to many who found it virtually indistinguishable from the original, he insisted it sounds like an entirely different record. “The new version of ‘Love Story’ is a bust, from the beginning,” he wrote in his email newsletter, a reliable source of anti-Swift cant for the last 12 years. “It’s nearly impossible to get through. Truly. If you’re a fan at all I dare you to play it from beginning to end.”
Perez Hilton hosted a lengthy forum on the Clubhouse app late Thursday night devoted strictly to debating the merits of old and new versions, with Hilton taking the pro side against a guest who said it was impossible to listen to “Taylor’s Version” without being distracted by thoughts about the singer’s battle against Big Machine.
The New York Times’ Lindsay Zoladz weighed in with nothing but love for the new version. “Swift is more interested in impressive note-for-note simulacrum than revisionism here, though sharp-eared Swifties will delight in noticing the tiniest differences (like the playful staccato hiccup she adds to ‘Rom-e-oh!’ on the second pre-chorus),” Zoladz wrote. She added that some have “wondered if the whole project was just an uncomfortably public display of personal animosity toward her former business partners, and the songs’ new owners. But Swift has so far brought a sense of triumph, grace and artistry to the endeavor, and in doing so has begun the process of retelling her story on her own terms. It’s better than revenge.”
The full credits list for the new recording:
Love Story (Taylor’s Version)
Produced by Christopher Rowe and Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift vocals recorded by Sam Holland at Conway Studios (Los Angeles, CA)
Recorded by David Payne at Black Bird Studios (Nashville, TN)
Assistant engineer Sean Badum
Additional recording by Christopher Rowe at Studio 13 (Nashville, TN) and Prime Recording (Nashville, TN)
Mixed by Serban Ghenea at MixStar Studios (Virginia Beach, VA)
Engineer – John Hanes
Mastered by Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound (Edgewater, NJ)
Drums by Matt Billingslea
Bass by Amos Heller
Electric Guitar by Paul Sidoti
Electric Guitar by Max Bernstein, recorded by Max Bernstein (Los Angeles, CA)
Acoustic Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin by Mike Meadows
Fiddle by Jonathan Yudkin, recorded by Jonathan Yudkin (Nashville, TN)
Backing Vocals by Mike Meadows
Backing Vocals by Paul Sidoti
Backing Vocals by Caitlin Evanson
Lead Vocals by Taylor Swift