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What If You Don’t Like It?

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 answer. 
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.


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