2016 Reflection Post / Moving Forward To 2017

Author: Leon Blair

Hey everyone! Leon here, and it’s time for our final post of 2016. 2016 was a bit of a mess here for us at Country Music Minds, and we can acknowledge that. Well, actually to be fair it was all on my end. However, we also have a lot of excellent pieces in our 2016 archives thanks to Andy’s excellent feature, “Exploring The Classics” as well as our year end awards and other reviews that have been brought back to Country Music Minds.

That being said, 2017 is going to be different, a LOT different. Part of our, no MY mistakes this year can be attributed to a lot of different things. Those who have been reading this blog for awhile now may understand what I’m alluding to. For those who don’t, I’ll lay it all out.

When Country Music Minds first launched in March of 2016, I couldn’t tell you how excited I was to start writing for this blog. When Andy joined us in April it seemed like the sky was the limit. It was for many months, at least until Fall (ironic huh?). We shut down, and many (many) posts got deleted, and it seemed like it was over in the blink of an eye.

We’ll explore why in a moment, but I want to say now that I do carry regrets this year. Believe it or not, the deleting of the posts isn’t what I’m most ashamed of, but rather what I said in some of them. We all know how many country blogs there are out there, and if you found us then surely you’ve heard of others.

Now, I love country blogs. Heck, they’re what inspired me to do my own thing, and I’ve always appreciated everyone for their hard work. I can’t name you two bloggers out there that are doing the exact same thing. It’s a diverse crowd out here. That being said, before the initial collapse of this blog I had come across some issues and criticisms with some of them. I was wrong about my newfound observations of them though. Back in October when this blog went down, I had developed somewhat of a distaste for fellow country blogs, mostly because it seemed like the atmosphere was getting clique-like. Everyone said the same thing, and it seemed like you only fit in if you agreed with them. Let’s face it too, there are certain views that are common among the blogosphere, despite how diverse of a crowd it really is. That’s something I won’t take back.

That’s another story on its own, but I don’t want to dwell on that. What I want to focus on is how it affected me personally. There have been times (many times) where I’ve written reviews or said things that I knew weren’t indicative of my true thoughts. It wasn’t that I was lying, it’s just that I had brainwashed myself into thinking, “you’re wrong” if I felt differently from what other bloggers thought. There were times I shook it, but it was never permanent. That all ends now though.

It makes me happy to see a lot of other country music blogs starting to rise up out of the woodwork. There’s something special watching something you created grow into something you can be proud of, and I wish my new comrades the best. Heck, in many ways we’re a new blog as well, or at least one that’s being reborn.

I think our conversation of honesty needs to continue however, and to do it, I’m going to talk about these new blogs for a moment more. How many times have you seen bloggers state that they made their blogs to give their “honest thoughts”? That’s what I started out doing. For the longest time I thought honesty meant bashing Luke Bryan’s new song or giving this Americana artist the highest praise possible because I had to root for the underdog.

That’s not what it’s about though. You see, the critical consensus is an intimidating force, but if you let it control you, you have no one to blame but yourself. have nobody to blame but myself. Honesty is about agreeing with your thoughts first and foremost. Maybe you’ll be different, sure, but maybe you’ll also expose somebody to a new viewpoint that they didn’t think was possible to see before. The same could happen to you. While she didn’t win our album of the year award in the end, part of why I connected so much to Courtney Marie Andews’ ‘Honest Life’ was because of the themes it portrayed. Starting over, turning over a new leaf, leading a life of honesty – that’s what I’m ready to do as well. In many ways I don’t want to bring back many of the old posts here, but I think I have to in order to serve as a reminder for me in the future.

That’s why if I can give any shred of advice to aspiring bloggers out there, it’s to be yourself. Don’t worry about fitting in, work on distinguishing yourself from the pack. You see, even if certain blogs have similar content (reviews, chart features, thinkpieces..etc), the voices from which that content stems from are completely different. If you have something to say, by all means, speak up. 2017 will be the year that we here at Country Music Minds try and figure out what distinguishes us from the rest of the pack. Hopefully we find something.

To add something to my advice, I’m going to turn briefly to our special post we crafted titled “What Are Reviews”? It was there that I explained what I thought a review was meant to be. I had bloggers comment on that post, and some stated that maybe they shouldn’t call what they do “reviews”, or maybe they should change their style. That wasn’t the point though. Again, the point is to be yourself and to write the way you want to write. Again, the country blogosphere is a diverse crowd in many ways (and not so much in others), and the number one feature of that boils down to the style presented to the readers.

I’ve also been thinking about our name, Country Music Minds. It wasn’t me who crafted the name though. It was Andy. Originally we were known as “The Country Line”, and why I named it that I couldn’t tell you. I guess I thought it sounded cool, I don’t know. I do remember my discussion with Andy though when we were thinking of a new name for this blog. Correct me if I’m wrong on this my friend, but I believe Andy made this name for alliteration purposes. Again, it sounded cool and appealing.

In essence, it still is just a name. We have “country” in the title so that people don’t have to waste time trying to figure out what we’re all about. However, recently the little light-bulb went off in my head and I realized, no, the name symbolizes something much bigger. “Minds”, not an individual mind, but plural, so as to distinguish that I have my thoughts, and Andy has his thoughts. We still come from different places in our opinions and our writing styles though despite us both sharing a passion for music. When it comes to my mind though, I now realize what I’m supposed to do with this blog.

The battle between the mainstream and Americana (underground, whatever you want to call it. You get what I mean) is still raging on despite the mainstream showing some vast improvements, and before I move on, I’m going to have to step in that controversial territory I mentioned earlier concerning bloggers.

One of my criticisms that I had back in October was that the mainstream was more carefully analyzed than its Americana brethren. I’m not saying anyone is wrong to have their opinions, but I do think that it’s common for the mainstream to get more of thorough checking, being analyzed for every little lyric or production choice imaginable. I was guilty of it too so don’t think I’m pointing fingers at anyone. I just didn’t see that at the time. On the other hand, Americana acts just seemed to receive heaps of endless praise, not having one damn thing wrong with them, or even something that could be improved upon. Again, I’m guilty as well, but instead of evaluating my blog I criticized others.

But I don’t want to operate like that anymore, I want to keep a fair and open mind to whatever I come across. That does mean giving a more careful analysis of underground albums the same way I did to mainstream albums this year. If I’m going to have a “country music mind” then I need to get rid of any past conceived notions and walk into everything giving it a fair chance.

To be honest, I don’t know if I have this all figured out yet. I’ve come to so many observations throughout my time here, and I’ve shared my thoughts like this at different times on this blog as well as to friends in private. I’m willing to at least try this out though, because I feel like I’m ready for this blogging thing once more. Yeah, it’s meant to be fun overall, I get that. However, I want to be more serious about being an asset to the country music world. I hope this blog turns into a thriving community where all opinions are welcome (yes, all), and I hope I’m still doing this for years to come, but if I am, I’m going to do it in a way that feels natural and comfortable to me.

There are many bigger problems out there in this wide world. Tons. I get that and agree with that as well. However, I also think this is worth looking into as well. Music is an important part of our lives, and on a personal note, this is helping me grow as a person. So with all of that said, we here at Country Music Minds are looking forward to conquering the Country music world in 2017. We hope you’ll join us for the ride.

Alright, I’m God knows how many paragraphs into this thing and I’ve really only touched upon my reflections of 2016 rather than what I’m looking forward to in 2017. Honestly, we’re looking forward to music, music, and more music. Not sure there’s much more to say other than that honestly. I don’t have a list ready to go just yet, but I am working on crafting a release schedule for this blog sometime later on during the week. There, you’ll find out about albums that are being released as well as what we plan to write about during the year. I can’t promise I’ll be good at constantly updating it but hey, I’ll try.

So yeah, enjoy the rest of your holiday, have a Happy New Year, and we’ll see you again in 2017!


8 thoughts on “2016 Reflection Post / Moving Forward To 2017

  1. Hey Leon,
    Great stuff as always. A few disconnected thoughts/reactions from me:
    -I know where you’re coming from when you talk about the pressure to conform to the critical consensus. Everyone has second-guessed themselves when they genuinely love something that everyone else is panning, or if they’re indifferent to something everyone else is praising to the high heavens. No one wants to be seen as either too easy to please or conversely, an attention-seeking contrarian. But you’re absolutely right: people should always state their honest opinions, whether their views are in line with popular sentiment or not.
    The truth is (and I’m sure I’m probably not telling you anything in the following paragraphs you don’t already know), everyone is going to be in the minority at times, and that’s perfectly okay. I can guarantee you nobody, and I mean nobody, truly loves all the stuff you’re “supposed” to love, or actually dislikes all the things you’re “supposed” to dislike. Music is extremely subjective, and in the end, it’s all a bunch of opinions, and no two people are going to see things the exact same way. All you can do is be honest.
    One thing that has helped me is instead of thinking of music in terms of “good” vs. “bad”, think of it in terms of “speaks to me” or “doesn’t speak to me.” This means it’s possible to say that an album is well-written, well-performed, etc. while also being honest that it isn’t your particular cup of tea. You can also acknowledge than an album has legitimate flaws while also admitting you love it because it happens to fit your taste perfectly. Of course, it can be extremely difficult to assign scores to such albums (which is why I only like to review some things).
    I’d also add that, while it can seem that many blogs tend to hand out very similar scores, I’m willing to bet there’s far less of an actual consensus even among critics than one might think. If you could know what people actually choose to listen to in their downtime, which probably far more accurately reflects what they’re truly passionate about than their review scores (after all, other people are influenced by peer pressure too), I promise you that you would see an immense amount of diversity.
    -As for the whole Luke Bryan vs. the Americana underdog thing, as you put it… I know this is easier said than done, but rather than considering what boxes or categories music fits into, try to simply evaluate it for what it is (and this seems exactly what you’re trying to do). Don’t worry if it’s mainstream or non-mainstream, pop or traditional, whether it “counts” as country or not, etc. In the end, none of that matters, and all music is ultimately just a collection of sounds that either gives you pleasure or doesn’t. There’s good and bad in everything and most of the dichotomies people create (e.g. pop vs traditional, old vs. new, mainstream vs. non-mainstream, country vs. non-country, etc.) aren’t really as clear cut as people pretend they are, especially in terms of where good music resides.
    -As for non-mainstream music getting a free pass, this is something I’ve noticed as well. It sometimes seems as if every high-profile indie/Americana/underground release is automatically guaranteed a very high score. It’s something everyone talks about and is praised endlessly, until the next week when the next amazing masterpiece comes out. It seems a bit much at times.
    I understand the discontent with mainstream country in recent years, but it sometimes feels that people overcompensate by treating every non-mainstream release like the second coming. I understand this impulse, and I’m guilty of it at times, so I’m in no way trying to cast stones here. But we have to acknowledge that most non-mainstream music isn’t great. That’s in no way a knock against it, because most music period isn’t great. Great music is rare. If someone reviews a non-mainstream album and makes some fair criticisms, they’re simply treating non-mainstream country with respect by applying high standards to it. After all, if we automatically exalt everything outside the mainstream simply for being non-mainstream, we’re not really being any more discerning or critical than people who passively accept everything the radio gives them.

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  2. Hey Andy, thanks for the kind words and response.
    I agree about the critical consensus thing. I know that I wasn’t giving my fellow bloggers enough credit when it came to then sharing the exact same thoughts. Like I said, if you can’t be honest with your opinions that’s all on you – no one else.
    I also hear you with regards to underground artists getting a free pass. Again, I’m guilty as hell. What’s important is that you learn from those things and move on. For example, you learned that reviewing and handing out scores wasn’t exactly what you always liked doing. Therefore you’re doing an awesome job exploring the classics instead. You learned from an experience, something I’m doing as well. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings us.

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  3. I agree with the original post and Andy’s reply.
    I love reading everyone’s year end lists. Somehow, mine don’t line up with anyone’s. Of the one’s I’ve read (and you know I’m not specifically country) I can find almost all of my albums somewhere, but not on the same list.
    And some make many lists that don’t make mine. For example, Follow Your Arrow (Blackberry Smoke) is on a lot of lists, from country to hard rock/metal. Didn’t do it for me. And that serves Andy’s point: music you like.
    To me there are two types of music; music I like and music I don’t. That’s it. Doesn’t mean the stuff I like is better than the stuff I don’t. Just means I like this and don’t like that. That is all.
    I can’t listen to most of the Americana/traditional country albums that many are touting. Not because they’re not good, but because I don’t like them. I don’t write to be cool or to cater to anyone else’s sensibilities. I write about what I like. Because I like it. And if I like it, then surely there is someone else who will like it. And maybe they haven’t heard it yet.
    This may be blasphemous to the blogosphere in which you hang out, but Sturgill Simpson is overrated. To me. And only me. Two years in a row his albums have been touted on “best of” lists. Didn’t make mine either year.
    Of course, my lack of endorsement is not necessarily an indictment. Maybe I just haven’t heard it. But if it’s being touted , then I probably have heard it, just not for me. And frankly I don’t have the time to listen to and deconstruct stuff I don’t like. Too much good stuff out there that I can’t even get to all of it.
    All that being said, I see your point about people fawning over indie artists and bashing of mainstream. I’ll go back to my hole now, listening to Shelly Fairchild and Cinderella. Thanks for listening.

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  4. I like what I like, and like to think I can disagree without being disagreeable. More power to you and other music bloggers for highlighting music that I might not have found otherwise. My own tastes are pretty different from anyone else’s, but I usually find at least some common ground, and some things to check out. Rock on !

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    1. Thanks Robert! We appreciate the readership as always. Glad we could be a small part in providing you with great music to listen to in 2016. 2017 is looking even better so far.

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      1. I agree. Even some of the artists who released good music this year hope to have more in 2017. 2015 had probably two dozen country albums that I liked about as well as the top eight or so of 2016. However, I thought 2016 was much, much deeper than 2015 for bluegrass. 2016 did provide plenty of angsty songwriter/Americana type material.

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      2. Bluegrass is definitely something we’re hoping to cover more of here in 2017. If you have any recommendations feel free to shout them out here! I
        Yeah, 2016 was definitely a strange year for Country. We had some wonderful throwback albums (as well as some solid modern traditional albums like Cody Jinks). We also had albums that stretched the boundaries (Sturgill, Robert Ellis). Personally, I found something to love on both sides, but now it’s seemed to cause a whole other problem in Country and Americana.
        It used to be simply mainstream v. The underground, and it still is in some ways. Now it’s either “it’s not country enough” on one side or “who needs genre?” on the other. I don’t know, maybe this is worth another article on its own. I’ll be curious to see how 2017 follows though.

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      3. Just as we find in country, people in bluegrass have very different ideas of “genre purity,” and songwriter-driven “new bluegrass” doesn’t fit the tastes of some purists, but still has a place somewhere. I was pleased to see country blogs cover Dori Freeman, for instance. The Grand Ole Opry has been showcasing a ton of bluegrass performers recently (Rhonda Vincent, O’Connor Band, Ricky Skaggs,etc). There were albums like Sam Bush’s “Storyman” that sort of fell through the cracks. Americana is perhaps a little more accepting so far of these types of bluegrass projects than the bluegrass or country orthodoxies, though the catch-all nature of “Americana” means that this “alt-bluegrass” or whatever we want to call it is head to head with everyone from folk to country to the Avetts, Lumineers,etc.

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