Screw It, I’m Not A Critic

​Editor’s Note: Hey everyone. Leon here. I just wanted to say, while the content has been light here lately, we’re not going away anytime soon. Andy and I have been and will continue to be very busy sorting some things out in our personal lives. We both thank you for your understanding.

Author: Leon Blair

​So in the spirit of starting some things over, I’ll state this now – we’re no longer a review blog. “What?!? No more reviews? That’s mostly what Country Music Minds is all about!” Yeah, I know, let me explain.

So as you all realized, we didn’t have any posts last week. It wasn’t due to a lack of interest or anything, Andy and I were both just extremely busy. We still are as well, and will continue to be. I know for a fact that I won’t have a ton of free time until mid April (and that’s being generous) Anyway, during the last week I only had time to listen to music for brief periods of time in between getting work done and taking care of other family and work issues. I didn’t have time to dissect albums and think about them like I would for a post here, I only had time to hear a couple songs here and there. So where did I turn? Well, to my nostalgia playlist of course.

​Now, a lot of people that I know (well, as much as you can actually “know” anyone on the Internet) have a huge love and nostalgia for 90’s country since it was the era they grew up in. In other words, their love for that is linked to age. I have a nostalgia as well, but not so much for 90’s country. Don’t get me wrong, 90’s country kicks all amounts of ass, but in terms of an era that had songs I could hear and be instantly transported to better days, I’d have to go back to the mid to late 2000’s and extremely early 2010’s (like, essentially just 2010). It was an era where yeah, the electric guitars were cranked up a little higher than they had been, and yeah, the songwriting was moving further and further into safer territory, but it was also an era where country music still sounded, you know, country. I can think back to the 2007-2010 era and instantly recall specific memories attached to specific songs, and in a year where I’m really starting to feel the pressures of entering into the “real world”, I had to listen to some of these songs to cool off so to speak.

One of the songs in that playlist that came up was Keith Urban’s “Sweet Thing”, you know, that pop-country song from 2009 that you probably forgot existed until just a few seconds ago? I have no idea why, but for some reason I loved it as a kid. I can listen to it at anytime and just feel relaxed, and it has little to do with the song itself. Again, it’s just the time period associated with it. I was young, life was simple, and my days were often filled with me exploring new music on the radio and discovering “new” artists. Crazy, right? That got me thinking, “I could never review this, I have way too many personal sentiments attached to this as well as other songs here. More importantly if this song came out today, would I feel the same way about it that I do now?”

I didn’t care though. In all honesty, listening to that playlist was probably the most fun I had had listening to music in a long time. I was listening as a human rather than a machine scribbling down notes to proclaim on this blog.

I’ve talked about how I’m not a professional at this blogging thing, and I also recently talked about how subjective “good” or “bad” is when it comes to describing music. So many of you are concerned with the box that we place around genre when it comes to music, but in my opinion, that box really symbolizes how we approach music.

I don’t want to be a “critic” anymore. I don’t want to listen to music as a machine anymore. I’m a human damn it. To be honest, I don’t think it’s truly possible to be “critical” about music. Nostalgia is a factor sure, but time in general is as well. I had a blast listening to my playlist sure, but there is also music I can’t revisit due to bad memories attached with it. For example, the day that Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free album came out (July 17th, 2015) was an absolutely horrible day for me, and while I had once reviewed that album (you can’t find it), I can’t say I can ever go back to that album without being reminded of that day or the memories associated with it. Is it a good album? Yeah, in my opinion, but I can’t listen to it again. Ironically enough I can listen to Alan Jackson’s Angels and Alcohol album (which came out on the same day) and be absolutely fine. It’s weird. I won’t share the exact memories attached but you get the idea.

Another reason I think it’s hard to be critical about anything is because of our bias towards certain artists, either for or against them. Don’t pretend like this doesn’t exist either. We all have artists that we get excited for whenever they release a new album or song, or really just release any news in general. Hey, why shouldn’t we, right? Again, we’re all human, and it’s a good thing to have that sort of excitement for something. Music is a beautiful thing, and to not have any favorites is to not love music, and in that case, why are you judging it to begin with? It works the other way as well. We all have those artists out there that no matter what they do or release, we still won’t care for it for personal reasons. I have artists like that, and that’s why I haven’t talked about their material, because that bias does exist.

And I know what you’re thinking, yeah, that happens, but the most important thing you can do is go into everything with an open mind. Bullshit, we can’t actually do that with every single artist, song, or album, it’s just not possible. We get excited to either praise or tear into something all the time, and that’s fine, but it also means we can’t actually be “critical” about it – in others, judging it for what it is. Will I ever review anything by Blake Shelton ever again? No, I can admit that to my bias.

So alright, we’ve discussed time and favoritism already, but honestly the other factor of why I don’t think it’s possible to be “critical” is because…..well, we’re human! That’s all we need! I’ll give you two examples of what I mean.

There are two songs that recently came out – one is Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man” and Aaron Watson’s “These Old Boots Have Roots”. The former is a song that has already gained some incredible critical acclaim while the other….well I don’t quite know how others will receive it. It’s admittedly a little corny in nature lyrically speaking, and I don’t think the more modern touches will go down smoothly with some hardcore Watson fans (or possibly country fans in general). What do I like better? Watson’s song.

Here’s where things get tricky. Is Zac Brown Band’s new song great? You bet, and the sparse acoustic instrumentation coupled with Jimmy De Martini’s fiddle line is absolutely gorgeous. The songwriting itself is phenomenal as well. So why don’t I love it instead of just really like it? Well, the song talks of a relationship between father and son, and in Brown’s case gets personal in a way that clicks a lot more on an emotional level than similar songs in this vein from say, Blackberry Smoke (“The Good Life”) or Sturgill Simpson (“Sea Stories”) as of late. Here’s the thing though, it’s that deeper emotional connection that alienates me in a way that didn’t appear when listening to the aforementioned songs. I didn’t have the best relationship with my father, so I can’t say that I honestly connect to this nor would I go out of my way to hear it anymore.

On the other hand we have Aaron Watson’s song. I was hooked immediately on this one. Yeah, the lyrics are a little basic, sure, but I absolutely loved the way the fiddles were used to support the melody, and the way the song rises to that anthemic chorus while also incorporating some more liquid textures really sounded pleasing to my ear. I also enjoyed the fact that the song was very upbeat, giving more room for that anthemic swell to emerge and evolve throughout the duration of the song. I absolutely love it. Really, I’m starting to learn myself what sort of sounds or elements I gravitate more towards as a listener. I love big anthemic, atmospheric songs that have at least a decent level of lyricism, and while it’s not atmospheric, this song is definitely anthemic and infectious. But you know you’re getting bad when you start thinking about songs you probably shouldn’t like but still do.

And I know what you’re thinking, it is possible to acknowledge that something is great or bad while also acknowledging these personal issues, I get that. I agree to an extent. But I’m also boxing myself in by doing that. I mean, how do I grade either of those two songs? Do I grade Brown’s higher since it’s a good song in principle? Or do I grade Watson’s higher due to the personal connection? 6? 7? 8? 9? A? B? I don’t know. That’s why I’m getting rid of grades. I’ve always hated them but I also found them to be important, and they still are, but my hatred for them has eclipsed that. Again, we’re humans damn it. We live in an age where machines cater a lot of our needs, but don’t forget who built the machines to start with. I’m not a critic, I’m not a reviewer, I’m someone who loves music, and I’m finally learning what that means again.

So what does this mean for here then? Well of course we’ll still be talking about music, the overall scope of what we do won’t change. It’s just the way that I approach it will be. Albums, songs, important news events, whatever. I’ll write about what I want to write about. I think the more important thing to remember is, these are all MY thoughts, and anything Andy writes is indicative of HIS thoughts. It’s far from a new concept here, sure, but it’s also one that bears repeating due to its importance.

I often blabber on and on about my personal feelings in regards to music and this blog, and I apologize if this seems like the 38282349th piece I’ve written on it. It’s just that I seem to find something more to say about it every now and then, and I can’t let my thoughts rest.


3 thoughts on “Screw It, I’m Not A Critic

  1. Glad to hear that the blog isn’t going away. I get what your saying about listening to albums as a machine instead of a human. Personally I think I always listened to country with that critical thought process. I think when you are compelled to review or talk about certain albums for the blog it allows you to check out artists maybe that you weren’t as familiar with that maybe you would have forgotten about. I think in quality specifically I would say ZBB song is much better but Watson’s song is obviously more fun because of the tempo/subject matter. I’ll also say the songs I have heard so far from Vaquero have awesome fiddle play even if the songs weren’t special they were catchy. The last thing I wanted to say was I have the same feeling about 90’s and 2000’s country. We are around the same age so that kind of music brings back specific memories from my childhood and some songs can be too painful to listen to again. Anyway, I look forward to seeing your blogs transformation, good luck.

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  2. Interesting. That’s kind of been my thing since I started blogging. I just wanted to introduce people to what I thought was good, or at least worth listening to. And I get where you’re coming from “Everybody is talking/writing about this, I need to have an opinion.”
    Nope. I get my opinion out on other blogs/sites. If it doesn’t move me positively, it doesn’t make it on my blog. I don’t have the energy or time to viscerally dislike something enough to write about it. Not gonna take the time to dissect something I don’t enjoy. Rather spend my time listening to something I enjoy.
    When I hear something new I like, but don’t quite know what to say, I’ll step away and listen to something I know I like and why to gain some perspective. Sometimes that gives me clarity, sometimes it confuses things. When I get clarity, I write. When not, I pass. That’s just me.

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  3. I’ll ditto the others. It’s interesting to read how music speaks to everyone a bit differently. I know that I have some that I just plain connect with more than others. In some cases, people I know well have met some of the artists, so I gravitate towards some of those.

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