Dai Woosnam’s Review Criteria
To artistes wanting possible reviews of their CDs:
First, if yours is a largely INSTRUMENTAL album, then I am not your man. Yes, I have indeed reviewed CDs that were totally instrumental in content, but at heart I am a ‘words and melody man’--someone particularly interested in the way the words fit the music.
And life gets ever shorter. So you talented musicians out there: if there are no lyrics, "thanks but NO thanks"!
Now, rather than me set out some guidelines in a rather cold formal way, it strikes me as much better that I instead let you see a copy of a letter I sent an artiste who recently sent me a debut CD.
What I say below, will assuredly apply to YOU too. Except that since the backlog is even MORE acute now, I will be amazed if I get to review your CD within 3 months.
But if you have the patience of Job, and the skin of a rhinoceros, well, please READ ON.
Today the postman brought your package containing your CD. It arrived just as I am going out the door to spend three days away.
I have a big backlog of CDs for review. Following my return, I intend work my way through them. Eventually I will come to yours. And I promise to listen hard to the CD three times, ALL THE WAY THROUGH. That is three MORE than one or two reviewers play their CDs, as I think you know. (Ha!)
Kevin McCarthy, too, (Managing Editor of this northern California web site Kevin’s Celtic & Folk CD Reviews) is a conscientious reviewer, and that is why he has hired me as European Reviewer to take some of his considerable reviewing workload from his shoulders. And this includes the bulk of his North American work too.
You note I mentioned three plays. You might wonder, "Why listen three times, and not TWENTY-three?" Oh, partly TIME constraints, of course. But also the realisation that in the first three plays, a listener is on a very real upward learning curve. Play #4 onwards, and the Law of Diminishing Returns usually sets in!
I used to review modern novels until the day came when I realised that the lunatics had TRULY taken over the asylum. Virtually every novel I got posted to me, became really hard work. And I gave up reviewing and reading them there and then, in one fell swoop.
Indeed, for a while before I stopped reviewing novels, I was at best, SKIM READING them. I used to joke that READING a novel before writing the review, prejudiced the reviewer so!
But I swore that I would never let such a "cursory inspection" ever apply to my CD reviews. So, you can be assured that I will give your work my full attention.
In the final analysis, I have to justify myself in the mirror. Whereas I naturally hope to like your work, I owe it to albums I have slated in the past, NOT to give yours an unreasonably favourable thumbs-up! But if I CAN be ecstatic about it, rest assured, I will be. But just realise that I am not in the business of writing puff-jobs.
That said, it seems to me that a reviewer has three essential duties:
First, and perhaps most importantly, a duty to the potential buyer. Occasionally you have to shout "caveat emptor." He/she works hard for their money. I don’t want them to waste it.
Second, a duty to the artiste. I cannot and will not make cheap jokes at their expense. If I possibly CAN, I must be constructive in my criticism. And even if the artiste considers I am diametrically WRONG in my assessment (as I may WELL be!), then at least he/she has got an insight into how one Welshman in GRIMSBY, ENGLAND, perceives their work!
Third, a duty to the READER. Many conscientious reviewers remember the first two duties but neglect the third...with the result that their review is often as dry as dust.
Hopefully, you will indeed come to read my review. I say this with my fingers crossed, because on many occasions, I have scrapped the review on the grounds that my piece is either "plain boring" or "just stating the obvious," or (and this really IS rare), I can find positively NO redeeming features! In such cases I do not post the CD back, but donate it to a charity shop (or--with the last-mentioned "utterly hopeless"--I donate it to the local landfill site).
And if a review doesn’t appear, I do not enter into any correspondence as to the "why." Look: it’s enough that I respect the fact that the CD is your creation, and that you may have gone through a process akin to childbirth with it.
However "reasonable" you think yourself to be, trust me, when push comes to shove, you will NOT take kindly to me explaining to you why I did not think that your little baby was worthy of a review from me.
So I will not be entering into any correspondence. Not even to tell you that it is up on the Web. (The way to find out, is to simultaneously tap your name and mine into a search engine, at intervals. And one day, just when you have given up hope, you might find that hey presto, it’s there!)
But then again, you may tap in vain. But rest assured that I really WILL have listened to your CD those three times
And a word more, on those occasions when CDs are completely without saving graces: rather than TOTALLY slaughter the artiste, I prefer to shelve the review and file under "Call it Experience!" And ditch the CD. (And as I say, in those rare cases, I have not got the gall to give the CDs to the charity shop: these CDs are so lacking in substance, only the Landfill will suffice. And even then I make sure that I do not look any Friends of the Earth member in the eye!)
So there you are. That is my credo.
I review/have reviewed for several print magazines, including The Living Tradition, where I have been writing since the year of its inception, 1993. But the incontrovertible fact is, that my reviews on the Net for Kevin are read by--I would estimate--about TEN TIMES the number of "Folk-folk" who get their hands on print publications (even ones as prestigious as The Living Tradition). I often get email messages from casual readers I have never met: and many of these live at the other end of the world from me here in England.
And, re print magazines: one curious aspect is that generally, magazines do not like printing reviews that are uncomplimentary!
Personally, I reckon that is why readers often skim-read CD reviews in magazines: there is far too much of the "file under excellent" and "make this a MUST on your Christmas presents’ list this year" type-of-thing. There should be no LOW BLOWS from reviewers, but one wants--nay, one NEEDS--truthful adverse criticism now and then.
And if you want me to really put my finger on the problem with reviewing GENERALLY--in all the Arts, I mean - it’s the "let’s make a friend of this artiste" syndrome. Even worse--with relative "unknowns"--there is the feeling that a reviewer wants to be remembered by Posterity. (You know the sort of thing: there are wizened guys about now who are saying stuff like "I gave the young Robert Zimmerman that vital kick-start to his career back in ’61 when I wrote a profile of him in The Village Voice".)
To hell with all that: I call it as I see it. Sure I would prefer to be "liked" than "disliked", but I have to look at myself in the mirror.
So, in closing, be assured that unlike one reviewer I know, who once told me (in a moment of candour brought on by alcohol) that he could proudly boast of never hearing his review copy of a CD more than once, and often reviewed on the strength of fast-forwarding through the CD, and just hearing one minute’s worth of each track, I just ALWAYS make a point of playing a CD through the three times. And this can often mean THE BEST PART OF THREE HOURS, just listening. Not reading the newspaper, nor, say, doing a crossword puzzle at the same time, but doing what it says: concentrating on LISTENING.
On reading my possible review of your work, if you think that I may have fallen-short of my "noble ideals," then I just beg one thing of you. And it is this. Do not--repeat, NOT--think that any of my comments are malicious: just instead identify me as a "paid-up member of the Dunces’ Club!"
Well, dear reader, if you are still NOT deterred, below is the address where you send your CD.
Make sure you put enough stamps on it, because as sure as heck, I will not be paying the punitive excess charges that the UK postal service impose! It will remain undelivered.
And also realise that this long letter (above) will, from today, be a thing of the past. In an effort not to waste time, I will not even be acknowledging RECEIPT of a CD from now on.
If you'd like to send me an email message informing me that you are sending me a CD to review, address it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the words "CD Review Request" in the subject field of the email message so I don’t accidently delete it without reading it.
All CDs are dealt with on a strictly chronological basis. If you are #130 in the pipeline, no amount of bribery will help you jump the queue. You are in for a long wait.
But, trust me, if it is delivered to me, then I promise that I will get to play it.
But whether I decide to WRITE about it, remember, is strictly in the lap of the gods!
Don’t say that you have not been warned!
My address is:
Mr. Dai Woosnam
And I leave you with this wonderful quote from the great Anthony Burgess. I taped it from a radio talk he gave in the late 1960s. It is about "book writers" but it could equally be about many of you and your CDs. Albums that you have put your heart and soul into.
Here it is, verbatim:
"Book-writing is hard on the brain and excruciating to the body: it engenders tobacco-addiction, an over-reliance on caffeine and Dexedrine, piles, dyspepsia, chronic anxiety, sexual impotence. Behind the new bad book one is asked to review lies untold misery and a very little hope. One’s heart, stomach and ANAL TRACT go out to the doomed aspirant."