From The Side of the Road… really dumb online bluegrass reviews

Do you read online customer reviews before going to restaurants or staying at hotels? As you may have discovered, it’s best to judge based on several reviews, looking at the average impressions compared to the averages of your other choices. If you allow yourself to be turned off by a single horrible review by a disgruntled customer, you would probably never eat out or stay in a hotel again for the rest of your life. On the other hand, think of the money you’d save.

The unfortunate fact is that some people write negative reviews as a kind of twisted hobby. Many of these people are chronic complainers or just unhappy people, or both. The review represents a kind of aggressive release. It’s the more humane version of going home and kicking the dog. Some people also get a perverse thrill out of trashing a place (not literally, though sometimes that, too) that other people seem to like. They gain a feeling of superiority from it: “You peasants may have enjoyed the Hyatt Regency but that’s because you don’t have my refined tastes.”

Sometimes people’s complaints just stem from the fact that the world at large is failing to accommodate their needs, needs that are sometimes highly specialized: “My husband always needs to sit facing at least two windows, and they were unable to find a seat for him. They were also insensitive about my allergy to all red food.”

You can test this yourself if you ever stay at a hotel you really like, then look up the online reviews of the place. Inevitably, blended in with positive posts, will be something like this: “VERY disappointing! The decor was dated, looking like it was last updated in 2020!!! Greater variety for the coffee maker would have been nice—I prefer cinnamon spice-flavored decaf. The mint that was left on my pillow was STALE! The shower was a little small, and  I couldn’t tell the shampoo from the conditioner without putting my glasses on, and I found the bath soap a little harsh. I WOULD NEVER stay at this hotel AGAIN.”

I was recently impressed with the Travelodge in Stony Plain, Alberta, where the Night Drivers and I were just playing at the Blueberry Music Festival. For its price range, the rooms and beds were great, the staff was extremely friendly, and I would definitely go back. Meanwhile, the first online review of the place portrays it like it’s a worthless crack house. It turns out that person was referring to a completely different hotel in a different city. So some negative reviewers are not just negative people, they don’t even know where they are.

This got me to thinking, what if some of our finest and most revered bluegrass music recordings were reviewed by negative online reviewers. Here’s how I imagine that would play out:

Review of Foggy Mountain Banjo by Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys:

I think we all recognize that Earl Scruggs is a good banjo player, but an ENTIRE album of banjo tunes?! Really???? I happen to like vocals, and I particularly enjoy Lester Flatt’s singing, but that talent is completely wasted on this monotonous release. Also, the title Fireball Mail is too close to Josh Graves’ Fireball which leads to confusion. The same can be said for Sally Ann and Sally Goodwin, both of which are on this record. Surely there are other names out there. Jimmy Martin just renamed tunes when he felt like it. Lester and Earl or their producer should have taken this approach. VERY DISAPPOINTING!!

Will the Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and guests:

I know this is meant to impress us with its “star-studded” lineup of guests, but a lot of these artists were past their prime when this was recorded. Hello!! Brother Oswald and Roy Acuff?! The sheer number of artists here makes the whole project seem incoherent and disjointed. It makes me wonder if the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band just couldn’t sustain the whole album themselves and had to fill it with a lot of big names. The studio chatter is also just a time-killer. Who wants to hear a bunch of people talking in the studio. Most of the time we don’t even know WHO is talking, let alone what they’re talking about. At one point I swear I heard someone saying, “Meanwhile back at the ranch.” I tuned out after that. Also, I’m sure Randy Scruggs is a fine guitar player, but Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now has NO PLACE on a traditional country music album. DO NOT BUY THIS ALBUM!!!

The New South by J.D. Crowe & The New South (Rounder 0044):

I’ve been a J.D. Crowe fan for years, and I was eagerly anticipating this album. What a letdown it turned out to be! Couldn’t they have found a more original way to start this album than with a Dillards cover (Old Home Place)? This is followed by Flatt & Scruggs Some Old Day. Later on the disc, Sally Good’n! C’mon guys! Where is the cutting edge material like Sin City and You Can Have Her the band is known for??! Also, a word about lead singing: Tony Rice is a good singer and all, but in Ricky Skaggs they have a great vocalist as well and yet he is featured on exactly one song, the gospel standard Cryin’ Holy. And speaking of that, I could be wrong but I would swear I heard drums and piano on that song (a crime!!). A friend of mine who, like me, really knows about bluegrass, said I was just hearing things. No drums or any other instruments are mentioned in the credits, so I’ll just give them the benefit of the doubt. Finally on Rock Salt and Nails, a song that seems to encourage shooting women out of bitterness (!) J.D. isn’t even playing BANJO! He’s playing guitar, of all things. What’s next? Earl Scruggs playing guitar?!! Oh, and did I see an obscene gesture in the cover photo? My friend also said no, but I’m not convinced. These guys are going to have to do a lot better than this to win back my support!! Boo!