The Traditional/Progressive Rating System

Last week, I floated the possibility of augmenting my reviews by adding a rating of how traditional the project is. The purpose of a review is to help the reader know if he or she wants to buy the project, and I think this feature will help. Reader Diana found reading another blog’s review of a Valor project that a reviewer who rates albums she likes highly on their own merits can rate an entirely different project highly, also on its own merits.

So an overall 5-star system (which I might also implement shortly) doesn’t really cut it for telling you whether or not you want the project. I can find something nice to say about just about everything; I’ve only reviewed one CD for this blog where that was a challenge. But just because the project has its nice aspects doesn’t mean that you, the reader, will like it. I think that adding this traditional/progressive rating system will augment your ability to read one of my reviews and know whether or not you would like to purchase the project.

So let’s dive right in.

Extremely Traditional
Definition: Vocals, Piano, and possibly Bass: An album style unchanged from Southern Gospel albums of the 1950s and early 1960s
Examples: Dixie Echoes Sounds of Sunday, Dixie Melody Boys Smooth and Easy, Five Broke Single Boys self-titled project

Very Traditional
Definition: Sounds quite a bit like “extremely traditional,” but with slightly augmented instrumentation
Examples: Legacy Five Heritage series, Greater Vision Church Hymnal series, Dove Brothers Sing the Quartet Way, Mark Trammell Trio Journey Thus Far, Inspirations I Know

Quite Traditional
Definition: A Southern Gospel fan of the ’50s would instantly recognize this as Southern Gospel, but would wonder what had happened to the instrumentation. Mostly old-fashioned arrangements such as would be found on a “very traditional project,” but perhaps with some big ballads
Examples: Cathedrals Alive! Deep in the Heart of Texas, Kingdom Heirs Gonna Keep Telling, Palmetto State It’s Settled, Perrys Life of Love

Somewhat Traditional
Definition: Still distinctively Southern Gospel, but all or nearly all songs have modern instrumentation
Examples: Mark Trammell Trio Once Upon a Cross, Collingsworth Family God is Faithful, Greater Vision Live at First Baptist Atlanta, Gold City Are You Ready, Legacy Five London

Slightly Traditional
Definition: Utilizes enough traditional arrangements to still be traditional, but has some more modern vocals and instrumentation
Example: Brian Free & Assurance Live in New York City, Signature Sound Get Away Jordan
I’m not going to try to define the second half, at least not yet. Just extrapolate in your imagination from the first five.

Slightly Progressive
Example: Dove Brothers Anything But Ordinary, Everything but Typical

Somewhat Progressive
Example: Gold City Revival

Quite Progressive
Example: Mercy’s Mark Something’s Happening

Very Progressive
Example: Crabb Family

Extremely Progressive
Definition: Contemporary Christian Music in all but name

Notice that I do not assign numbers to the scale. Obviously, I number it 1 to 10 mentally, just to preserve my sanity as I try to keep everything straight. But I do not post it publicly because reader dbmurray’s observation that a straight 1 to 10 scale would make it appear that traditional albums were inherently better is well taken. Of course, in the opinion of many Southern Gospel fans, traditional albums are inherently better, but that’s not the point here. The point is to make these reviews more informative and better enable you to decide whether you want to purchase the CD.

So what do you think? Am I on the right track?

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17 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. That’s a lot of shades to define just one element of a recording. My suggestion would be to trim it down to fewer categories.

    Most people aren’t going to be able to tell that Gold City’s _Revival_ is two steps more progressive than EH&SS’ _Get Away Jordan_. I’m one of those people who can’t objectively point to one or the other and say it’s more progressive.

    However, if you lumped all the slightly/somewhats into one central category, I think you might be on to something. (You probably can’t call the middle “contemporary SG,” though that’s what the middle categories really are…maybe “Modern SG” would be better.)

    Then, if you put just a couple of categories on either side rather than having ten that constantly trip over one another, I think you might be on to something.

    You could have Traditional, Traditional/Modern, Modern, Modern/Progressive, and Progressive.

  2. I like what you are going after here. It would definitely be a help in knowing what the project style is. However, it will be very difficult to keep all these definitions straight with the catagories. If you rate the CD, put the definition with the rating each time. Otherwise, I’ll never remember what Slightly Traditional or any other rating means. Perhaps there are too many catagories. This is a great idea on rating CDs, it just may need a little fine tuning.

  3. Personally I am with David on too many categories, I think they could be cut in half and still have plenty. But you still have some other sub-categories that could be mention, i.e. country gospel, mountain gospel, bluegrass etc. (unless you won’t review projects from the Isaacs, Doyle lawson, Austins Bridge, Inspirations, Primitives, Mckameys, etc. lol

  4. I really like your idea of rating based on traditional/ progressive, but 5 categories rather than 10 would help me out a lot. I’ll never remember the differences between some of the 10 current ones! :o)

  5. All right. 🙂 Based on the responses so far, I might cut it down a bit. 🙂 How would seven be–one middle, and three degrees on each side?

    I tend to equate “modern” with “progressive,” though, so if I could find a different word in the middle, that would be great.

  6. Hey Daniel, here we go again. lol I said almost exactly what DBM said about “modern” vs. “progressive.” I said there was a very important difference between the two back then and it’s still true.

    “Modern” SG says the album is cutting-edge, possibly somewhat outside of the box, but still solid SG. “It’s So God” is an example of this.

    “Progressive” SG says the album has songs that would fit well in anther genre (ie CCM/country), but still has the SG label. I don’t think you’ll find more than 1 or 2 songs on any BFA project that are CCM or country in nature. Therefore, there’s a huge difference.

    BTW, I’m not trying to pick apart your rating, but there’s no way I would classify “Something’s Happening” as Quite Progressive. I don’t think it has 1 CCM or country song on the entire album…

  7. Good idea. Like every one else, I think you should cut back on the number of catagories. For example, a catagory of Extremely Progressive should not be nessesary.
    In my oponion, if it is more progressive than the Crabb Family, it does not fit into the Southern Gospel field, and you would be better not to review such.
    I mean, you don’t want Avalon or Nicole C. Mullen fans frequenting {unless you figure out how to convert their musicall tastes!}

  8. 10 is overkill…5 is just right. Make more specific comments in your review copy. We appreciate your effort to inform us…of course a review is a review: One man’s opinion…I’m with DBM on this one.


  9. I think I’m going to blog about the old terms: Southern Gospel, Country Gospel, Black or Soulful Gospel, Contemporary, Inspirational, Sacred, MOR.

    George King once told me that a couple of my songs were “Southern/Inspirational” and thus somewhat unique.
    Is there something wrong with an eclectic CD in SG?…or from an SG group?…just asking!

    Yes, I will blog on this soon. Thanks Daniel for “stirring the pot” a little…and in your respectful way.

    Paul Jackson / The Prophets

  10. I find the whole idea of labels confining period. I would rather see a CD reviewed for its merits without having to fall into a label. A good review is going to point out where a CD leans within the review itself and shouldn’t need a label. Labels confine a genre, they don’t expand it.

    SG doesn’t need to be kept inside its already too narrow box if it wishes to appeal to a larger mass. And like it or not, appealing to a larger mass is what keeps it alive.

  11. But on the other hand, keeping that distinctively quartet-based sound is what keeps it Southern Gospel. 🙂

  12. Daniel, you have always refused to accept the fact that southern gospel has ALWAYS been more than quartet based. Read your history!

  13. Good grief, chill out Susan !
    One needs to have a labelling system like what Daniel is suggesting for those who don’t know about a certain group’s style.
    For example, if I was a new person to our music, and saw a favorable review on someone’ blog of the Isaacs’ new project, I may want to buy it. BUT, If I was a fan of the Kingsmen, and never heard the other types of music that fall under the broad “umbrella” of what is called Southern Gospel Music, I might assume I’d like it just because I saw a good review on a Southern Gospel web-site.
    Once I’d get the project, I would most likely be VERY dissappointed, since the Isaacs and the Kingsmen are totally different.
    Such is needed NOT to show bias or favoritism, for the positive in each recording and group needs to be pointed out, since there’s way too much emphasis on the negative. I for one think that Daniel does an excellent job of doing such.
    The trash-talk and useless nit-picking within this industry is often what drives people away. DO WE REALLY NEED THAT?????????
    Now that I’m off of my so called “soap-box”, I’ll end like this.
    I think that such a classification system is vital to help the fans so they know what to expect in a project, and werther or not they want to support the industry by buying a certain album.

  14. I can see some fans who might prefer both angles, and you’re never going to be able to satisfy all of them. Some don’t like labels of any sort, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t write a decent review unless you’re descriptive.

    You might say one song reminds you of a song Rodney Crowell recorded called “She’s Crazy For Leaving.” That’s a very specific description, but that’s a label too.

    I think what some people dislike are broad generic labels where no one really agrees on the definition in the first place. My approach in writing reviews is different from what Daniel is attempting to do. I try to use very specific descriptions of songs within the review itself. I can see how some fans might appreciate an overall label for the whole CD, but the fact is most CDs contain more than one type of song. The Isaacs’ _Big Sky_ CD, for example, might be labeled “Country” overall, but there’s so much more to it. The song “Walk On” is classic Isaacs…an upbeat Bluegrass style in the vein of “I’m Gonna Move” that they recorded years ago. So my gut feeling is that it isn’t particularly good to use a general label for an entire CD and in doing so, make the reader assume they wouldn’t like it at all.

    I prefer to encourage readers to listen to styles they think they might not like, because that’s the only way you’re going to grow as a music consumer and learn to appreciate more than one confined style of music.

  15. Mary, I could tell you to “chill out” too, but since this is a discussion and I was discussing with Daniel, I don’t see any need to get defensive or agressive. Especially since I am quite chilled and comfortable.

    Daniel has time and time again noted his own preference and prejudice towards traditional southern gospel music and most preferably towards traditional quartet music. So much so, that he tends to forget that history shows us that traditional includes much more than quartet music. That and that alone was my point. Though, I am fairly certain Daniel understands my point even if you do not.

    I am of the opinion (not that anyone may care, but since this blog asks for opinions, I feel free to express mine) that labels only hinder the industry and continue to box the genre into boundaries that keep it from growing. If you plant a few flower seeds into a pot they will grow there but never get any bigger. But if you allow their boundaries to grow, soon you no longer have a few flowers that only you enjoy but you have a garden from which many can share.

    I understand Daniel’s desire to provide an accurate review, but like DBM, I think that labels on an entire project aren’t really accurate. Be descriptive in the review. That’s enough.

  16. Susan- Yes, I overreacted and apologize. BUT,I’ve seen Daniel do ‘descriptive reviews’ that highlight the good in CD’s that are not quartet/traditional.
    One example is a review of Eighth Day’s “Heading Home” CD on
    DBM- By the way,I used to be an Isaacs fan. They were “my group”. There was NONE better. But, Big Sky is not what they used to be: good bluegrass. It’s very country, and for an old Isaacs fan, I can’t quite comprehend their style switch, and can’t bring myself to like it. For people who have never heard their older projects, such as “Carry Me”, “Bridges”, “Increase My Faith”, and (the best, in my opionion) “Peices Of Our Past”, could well fall in love with “Songs of Faith”, “Heroes” , and now “Big Sky”.
    Certainly, It would be good to mention in a review the simillarity of the song “Walk On” to their past material, and that it stands out from the generallization of the whole. Yet the whole CD is not like that, and a generall lable of “Country Gospel” would be usefull in
    such a case to describe the entire recording.
    That is what I interpeted Daniel as meaning when he brought up the whole idea. Of course, he’d better note the best in a CD, and any stylistic differences from the majority of the songs.

  17. Mary,

    That’s a good point. I can give the rating and note the exceptions!