Hello everyone! Leon of Country Music Minds and I decided to do this collaboration piece to discuss the month of March in music as well as any other notable news. Below you will find the transcript to our conversation. Enjoy!
Alex: I’ll start with the first thing I covered this month. I know we both covered the Nikki Lane album. What were some of your thoughts about it?
Leon: I honestly thought it was pretty good. It didn’t quite click with me as “great”, but it’s a very fun album. I think the beginning is definitely very strong. The middle sort of winds down, and it ends on a high note with “Forever Lasts Forever”. I’d still say for me it’s a 7.5 but again, fun album
Alex: Yeah, for me it kind of fits in where a lot of albums have for me so far this year and that is the B+ 8/10 range. So pretty good but I wouldn’t call it great.
Alex: I feel like I give too many albums that grade sometimes but, I think it’s accurate
Leon: You know, that’s what I’d say about a lot of albums this year. Pretty good, maybe even great, but not something I may return to all that often. There really hasn’t been a consensus “excellent” album other than maybe Sunny Sweeney’s latest, but even that’s subjective
Alex: Right. I think it’s been a down year for albums but I expect big things from Stapleton and the Zac Brown Band later in the year. I think the independent side is lacking compared to the last couple years
Leon: I get what you mean though. 7 is probably my most common grade this year (or 8), and it might seem stingy, but at the same time, it makes it more worthwhile when you get an album that DOES blow your mind, you know?
Alex: Speaking of albums that blew my mind we have to talk about Breaking Grass
Alex: I didn’t expect a random bluegrass find to be an album of the year contender for me
Leon: Zac Brown has the potential to be great, and Stapleton could be as well. With those two though, I feel like we’re going to get a ton of slower songs, and that’s fine, but at the same time I hope neither project bores me.
Leon: I’m actually covering Breaking Grass right now. I have the review about 50% done, so I’ll probably release the review Tuesday.
Alex: Oh great! Would you say its an AOY contender for you?
Leon: In all honesty, no, and you’ll see why later, but I definitely think it’s on the “great” end. I have to say though, it’s cool that you discovered them. How did you find out about them?
Alex: Well, I was looking at the different Bluegrass charts (like all the cool kids do) and I stumbled across this Bluegrass band that I had never heard of. I decided to listen to the album (not expecting much) and I was shocked. I was surprised not only at how great it was but, some of the lyrics left me wide eyed
Alex: Lots of murder songs and creepy songs on this one
Leon: Definitely, I don’t know when you’ll publish this, but I’ll spoil it anyway – I think the first half of the album is great. The more experimental side really shines through in the lyrics and instrumentation. I just don’t personally think it holds up as well in the 2nd half, with the tone shifting more towards traditional bluegrass (not a bad thing though), and the themes not being as interesting save for “Faith Moved A Mountain”. I’d still say it’s pretty great though – probably a 7.5 or an 8 (speak of the devil, haha)
Alex: Ha! And I can hold off publishing this until you release your review
Alex: The album I struggled with most this month and this year was definitely Rhiannon Giddens Freedom Highway.
Leon: No problem. It’s fine with me. It’s just my personal opinion anyway. That brings us to an interesting point though – reviews. I don’t like to call what I do “reviews” so much as just a music fan expressing what they thought about a piece of work. With “reviews” you feel as if you’re supposed to say everything the album supposedly stands for/is about and give an accurate representation of how the crowd might perceive it. I don’t like it. What do you think?
Leon: I understand that. You and Megan Conley of Country Exclusive (look Megan I’m quoting you again). That’s the beautiful thing about having so many blogs – you see different opinions. Is something good or bad? Who knows? I don’t like it when there’s music you feel like you have to either like or dislike just because of what others have said. That’s something I’m doing much better with this year
Alex: I struggle most with giving grades honestly. There’s a lot of second guessing on my part with that and I take that seriously. And yes I’m not sure what I do is necessarily a review either. I try to give an overview of the album and give my thoughts
Leon: You and Megan said the same thing I meant
Alex: I’ll respond to what Megan said by saying absolutely. Even though I still stand by the idea that some music is bad, I do think a lot of it is subjective. Especially in regards to grades because not everyone even grades the same way
Leon: For me, grading is a curse and a blessing. On one hand I do like to have a stamp in time of what I thought of a piece of work, but again, one point in time. It could change at any point. Marty Stuart’s new one has only gotten better while ironically enough I haven’t returned to Rhiannon Giddens as much. For me, it would take an act of God for me to grant a 10. I’m not an asshole (well, maybe I am), but you really know that certain grade. it belongs to the albums that have stirred you the most. 9’s for me are what you’d call the contenders. They’re excellent, but might not have that transcendent quality I’m looking for (I’ll send this now so you can see, but I’m not done)
Alex: I like grades because I feel that should be part of a review. It certainly helps at the end of the year when you are deciding what was the best music of the year. But it’s definitely for me difficult to give grades
Alex: I have second guessed my perfect grade for Sunny Sweeney and that is my favorite album of 2017
Leon: 8’s and 7’s are tough for me. They’re what separate great from good to me. It’s tough to make that judgment call. Again, sometimes you feel like you’re being stingy, but it’s just grades anyway. As you said, not everyone grades the same way. 6’s and 5’s are merely decent to “eh”, as you’d expect. I haven’t given a ton of grades below that, but I rarely go below 2/10. I often try to find even the slightest good in something, or even judge it on a scale. For example, this is terrible, but not as terrible as THAT. You know?
Alex: I have only given 1 album less than a 7/10 because I don’t even want to waste my time with albums that are below that. It takes a lot of time to do album reviews so if it’s not worth my time I don’t do it
Leon: Sunny’s is excellent IMO. It’s ten tracks that don’t waste time (hint to you artists – killer, no filler). But for me, it doesn’t transcend to that top place for me. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I can’t pick out a flaw. I just also can’t “feel” that 10. It’s weird. Just me though.
Alex: That’s why I gave it a perfect grade because I couldn’t find a flaw and I loved it. Represents country music well
Leon: I hear you. Last year I don’t think I graded anything lower than a 7. I get it. I do now, but that’s because my personal philosophy has shifted over the course of this blogging journey…many times.
Leon: And that’s perfectly fine. What defines a perfect album is different for all of us. It’s the one grade I do care about for me since I don’t want to go overboard with it, but again, for ME
Alex: To put into perspective the work I do for album reviews I have done 2 pages of notes on the first 6 songs on Dailey and Vincents new album lol. It’s 16 songs!
Leon: Actually, I have a note on negative reviews, and it might get cynical…
Leon: I have to give Dailey and Vincent a listen. 16 tracks though…Woah boy, haha.
Alex: 2 songs do not have lyrics but still lol.
Alex: Let’s get cynical go ahead!
Leon: Well, you know that piece from LA Weekly that criticized Americana acts? I don’t disagree with the spirit of that. I disagree that most of the criticisms devolved into name calling and other unnecessary remarks, but I do agree there’s a sense of elitism hidden in the entire independent side (not just Americana). The writer just did a piss poor job of expressing that. (Cont.)
Leon: Anyway, the reason why I started doing negative reviews again was because, it helps the honesty shine through. With mainstream albums I have no problem detailing what’s wrong or saying that something is absolute shit. With independent albums though, there’s this sense of “oh, this is SO much better”. In other words, it has to be great. I’ve unfortunately contributed to that by being swept away with it, but there’s some of it that’s absolute shit, some even worse than the mainstream. That brings me to another point (cont.)
Alex: I did read that. They weren’t wrong about everything they said but, the name calling in my opinion was just to rile people up to get views.
Alex: And for me I don’t care if it’s mainstream or not. That doesn’t have anything to do with how much I like something. Either it’s good or it’s not
Leon: Remember that piece about my contact page? I’ve had a few submissions here and there, and most of the time it’s to get an artist a review. But come on, what’s a review really mean? Honesty or good publicity? Plus, you’re getting this music for free, so obviously you owe them right? Screw that. I think it’s time to take that same mindset I take with mainstream albums and apply it to everything. Blogs are often praised for “telling it like it is”, but is that the entire truth? That’s a question about quality though, so it’s tricky to answer.
Leon: Oh yeah, I don’t meant to accuse you of anything, just a general observation about the entire scene. I just think there’s nothing wrong with negative feedback (just my personal philosophy). If you don’t, it creates echo chambers I think
Alex: I’m new so I haven’t had too many pitches but, I assume if someone asks me to cover something they expect a ringing endorsement of the work. If it’s not good and they ask me to cover it I won’t cover it because I won’t lie
Alex: Even though my major is PR I don’t do PR for them lol
Leon: Good on you. I’ve had that, and I’ve stuff pitched that wasn’t good. I just ignored them since I didn’t know what to say. That could be a good segue into another topic – blogs, and the personal pressures and drama and bullshit that come with it (as Josh Schott said). What do you think about the number of blogs shutting down lately?
Alex: It’s honestly pretty sad to see Country Perspective go. Josh and Trigger at Saving Country completely changed me as a music fan and that’s not speaking in hyperbole. When I was in High School and younger I listened to what was on the radio because that’s all I knew existed. When I found Country Perspective and Saving Country it changed the whole ball game. Heck if it wasn’t for Josh I probably would never have created a blog. He was a great inspiration and his work will be greatly missed.
Alex: You and Megan at Country Exclusive summed up my thoughts pretty well in your farewell letters
Leon: Agree 100%. Those were the first blogs I discovered as well. It’s sad to see, but I get it. Josh addressed the “drama and bullshit” of running a blog on his Twitter letter, and I get that. It’s hard to know what to do with a blog. In the end you have to do what makes you happy. Both on the blog and outside of the blog. You know, I’ve been rude. I’m the one asking the questions right now instead of you. What else did YOU want to discuss, friend?
Alex: I want to talk about Deep South before we sign off but that brings me to something I have been thinking about lately. Do you think that your excitement for new albums is being taken away to some extent when basically half the album is being released before the album? For example, I should have been over the moon excited when Josh Turner’s new album came out after 5 years. But, because I had already heard half the album the excitement wasn’t really there. Maybe this doesn’t matter but, it’s something I have been considering.
Leon: Good topic. In all honesty my answer would depend on the album. For some albums, if the song is really great it can get you excited for the rest of it. For example, I had no plans to cover the new Mavericks album since I found their last album pretty boring, but then I heard “Damned If You Do” from their new one, and now? I’m looking forward to hearing the album. It works the other way though. You can be disappointed as well. It’s probably not good – after all, it sets up pre-expectations, something that probably isn’t good haha. In terms of excitement, yeah, I can totally see that. At the very least, it makes some albums easier to cover since you’ve already focused on particular songs so many times
Alex: From a writing perspective it definitely makes it easier to review when you heard 5 songs already but from a fan perspective I have noticed a clear lack of excitement when I have heard a good deal of the album already
Alex: But anyway speaking of Deep South what were some of your thoughts about it?
Leon: Deep South? Hmm, in all honesty it hasn’t held up as well for me. I still find the title track to be a guilty pleasure, and songs like “Hometown Girl”, “Lay Low”, “Hawaiian Girl” and “Never Had A Reason” are definite highlights, but other than that it’s just pretty boring. I used to think “Wonder” was the standout, but even that I think works better as a ballad. But in terms of albums that haven’t held up well I could give you a list of albums this year. Still, happy he’s back.
Alex: Josh Turner could sing the alphabet and it would sound great to me but yeah his new album was disappointing
Leon: Anything else man?
Alex: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about or do you want to give a preview for what you will be covering in April?
Leon: April? Hmm….lots of stuff – Chris Shiflett, Jason Eady, Angaleena Presly, Charlie Worsham…just a few names that could make the month great. You?
Alex: I’ll b covering Charlie Worsham, Brad Paisley, Jason Eady and Dailey and Vincent for sure. I’m sure other things will pop onto my radar also… Hopefully I can find another gem like Breaking Grass! Haha
Leon: Oh yeah, Dailey and Vincent are a group I want to get to as well. This week I’m covering Steve Moakler, Breaking Grass and hopefully Trace Adkins and the Mavericks. I’ve also got some other pieces in the works (including fake news haha).
Thanks to Leon at Country Music Minds for joining me for this collaboration piece. It was a lot of fun having this conversation and I hope you guys found it to be interesting as well.