Country Music People
A few weeks ago I bumped into a former colleague who asked what
was keeping me occupied since my retirement from “the day job”. I had received
five albums to review for Country Music
People magazine that very morning and mentioned with those, this blog and
other bits and pieces I manage to keep fairly busy; in fact I have joined the
ranks of retirees who can honestly say they don’t know how they ever found the
time to go to work.
“What do you do if you don’t like a CD?” was my friend’s next
question, so I told her about my local fish and chip shop.
I have been a regular customer for about ten or eleven years;
parking close by is usually easy, the welcome is always cheerful and friendly, I
think the prices are reasonable and I enjoy the food. If I were to read a
review of that fish and chip shop which said the reviewer found their food to
be terrible and the value for money appalling would it stop me buying my Friday
night supper there next week? No, of course it wouldn’t.
Picking a name totally at random, if I get to review the next
album released by, say, Kacey Musgraves and happen to dislike it intensely,
will my saying so in print stop any of Kacey’s fans from buying and loving that
album? No, of course it won’t.
If I dislike that album intensely but write a fawning five star
review simply because it’s Kacey Musgraves, in some sort of forlorn hope that
doing so will make me and Kacey “besties” the next time she hits town, would
that be fair to the people who bought the magazine? I think you know the
There are allegedly places in the British Country music media
where spending money on advertising will guarantee your new release a
favourable review – a sort of “backhander compliment”. Others take the Fanzine
approach and the bigger the name the more effusive the review because editors
assume their readers only want to hear how “wonderful” their favourites are –
but CMP, I am pleased to say, does
neither and I am equally pleased to have received several compliments from
readers I have met who say they enjoy and trust my views on these new releases.
My friend asked how I set about writing a review and the answer is
simple – I start by listening to the album. The product may well be accompanied
by a professionally produced media sheet and the artist may have a well
designed and very informative website, but before I look at any of that I
listen to the album – usually twice, and that will begin to determine how
highly I rate it.
Five Star System
At CMP we work on a
five star system, no matter how great the album is, it isn’t going to score
more than five. Zero stars is rare (although I still think The Zero Stars would
be a great name for a backing band), and I don’t think in all my years of
reviewing I have ever awarded the big round number.
Contrary to popular belief I don’t have to love it to give an
album a high score. If I’m hearing good country music, written well, produced
well and played well I am duty bound to acknowledge and commend that, even if I
might not choose to listen to that album ever again once I have finished my
review. I don’t know how other reviewers at Country Music People arrive at their scores but I probably
subconsciously start by assuming everything is a three and then add or deduct
half stars depending on what I hear.
Some reviewers I have read in other publications, including
national newspapers, seem to think they have some sort of obligation to help
the artists promote their new product. I frequently read a review of an album I
have written about and get a familiar feeling; on checking I find the reviewer
has done little more than paraphrase the professionally produced media sheet
which came with the review copy. I don’t feel I have any obligation to the
artist other than to be fair, and if my views are negative I believe I should
explain why I form that opinion.
My obligation to the readers is similar, often I will be writing
about an artist they have not heard of before and I believe I must be
consistent and always strive to show no favouritism. Again, if I rave about
something I need to explain that the cause of my delight is more than just the
artists’ previous track record and/or enormous fan following.
Reviewing new releases in Country music is a great privilege, I
get to hear some excellent music often before it is officially released and
over the years I have been able to take advantage of the opportunity to learn
more about Bluegrass and other sub genres where my knowledge was previously
weak. Reading reviews from colleagues in CMP
continues to introduce me to new artists who have become personal
favourites – and yes, I frequently go on-line and purchase CDs based on 400 well
written words which have appeared in the magazine.
If I don’t like it I say so and hopefully explain exactly why I
don’t like it. From time to time I re-visit albums I have criticised, stick a
CD in the car player and have another listen ...... almost without exception I find I still don’t
like them, but it’s only fair to check.