The southern gospel herd
The TalleyTree-O blog (yeah, yeah … bad pun) has an interesting cultural experiment going on, though I’m not sure that’s what they had in mind when they posted some samples of the cover art for their next album and asked readers to weigh in. Probably the Talleys only wanted some help on picking the most marketable cover. But in the process, they’ve cracked open a window into the psyche of southern gospel culture. Go look at the proposed covers, and then come back.
In general, the comments seem to be running in the direction of this commenter:
I like #1. I do not like the covers where you are split apart. You need to be seen as a trio–not individuals.
Since I wouldn’t have noticed any of this but for a friend, who pointed out the entry to me and offered some cogent thoughts on the issue, I’ll let him amplify all this:
So far, all the commenters but one has shown strong preference for the No. 1 design [which features the family all in one frame, as opposed to the other options, which are various collages of individual photos of each member stitched together]. Many of the comments mention the “family” nature of their preferred choice and that the others look “separate” or “individual.” Definitely an SG statement of culture. If the Talleys don’t pick the “together” shot, I’ll bet they will have some explaining to do. But this is what happens when you try to let the cultural herd rule. Can we extrapolate from this episode and say that this is what holds back the industry’s artistic choices often? Just because the artists think they “know” what the culture will allow, they simply give in. This relates to some of the comments running on your current post “list of the day,” doesn’t it? I was discussing this with a friend of mind and she said the Talleys should just do another post saying that Jesus told them to do the one they liked and to title the post “Jesus Trumps Y’all.”
Heheh. It’s probably not that surprising that southern gospel fans like the optics surrounding their favorite music to reflect their worldview and assumptions about life, but it’s also pretty rare that we get a glimpse inside the process by which these attitudes are reinforced in the interface between fans and artists (or not, in this case, if the Talleys decide to go with something other than the “together” pic).
And perhaps this herd mentality or pre-emptive group think or whatever you call it explains all the unremarkable, paint-by-number tunes that so many artists are recording these days. I put the Booth Brothers’ new cd in the car yesterday and was promptly benumbed by how boring and unimaginative so much of it was (though I don’t mean to pick on them … they’re just what is at the top of the stack). So many of the harmonic intervals and chord progressions and rhythmic patterns felt as if they were transplanted in large, roughly hewn chunks from The Blind Man Saw it All album, but without any of the effort at original writing or arranging.
Half that’s never been told rhymes with streets paved with gold rhymes with who’s writing and choosing this stuff? And this is one of the strongest songs on the album. Really, it is. (I’m not even getting into the hokum about grandpa and fried chicken and all the other double-battered cornpone clogging this album’s arteries). It’s like they’re trying to be the washed out, paler memory of themselves that they hoped the “average” fan might have recalled of the group two years ago when “He Saw it All” was popular. (Before you start lighting the fuse on a flame war in the comments thread, recall that I like the Booths immensely and think they’re among the best things going in sg.)
A lot of people like to turn this kind of criticism around on the critic and say, well, if you think you can do any better why don’t you. The assumption here is that the artists are doing the best they can with the material they’ve got so be grateful you’ve got anything at all. But this Talley’s experiment makes you wonder what kind of material groups are throwing away or passing over, not because they don’t think it’s good music, or that it has potential, but because it’s pre-emptively stricken from contention by the herd mentality and its spokes-cow, sitting on the artists’ shoulder whispering, that’ll never do, it’s too risky, they’ll never buy it, play it safe.
Somebody should put up the top 30 songs that a group is thinking about recording on their next album and see what fans have to say about that.
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