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.
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.