Bad Mojo

I was put off by a music review in your June issue written by Anders Nielson, but didn’t intend to write this letter, figuring that, well, that’s the music biz for you. But seeing the review appear in Google searches, I kept thinking that The Bollard should be made aware that reviews like this unnecessarily alienate people in Portland who should be some of your regular readers.

The review was about Neil Pearlman’s new CD, Coffee and the Mojo Hat, which has earned very good reviews from many sources, from the Huffington Post to Jazz Weekly to the Press Herald. Yes, he’s my son and I helped work on the album, so you can presume I’m biased, but then I’ve also written a music column for a magazine for 15 years, and worked as a distributor of CDs for 11 years, so I have written lots of reviews myself, and have some clear standards in mind for fair review-writing.

That review by Nielsen didn’t serve The Bollard well. Nielsen’s credibility was shot in the first paragraph, when he refers to the “incessant keyboard tinkling” of this piano album, which is like saying a guitar album has too much strumming.

His credibility takes another hit in the second paragraph when he claims the cover is misleading to say that the music has funk influences — “funky it ain’t,” pronounces Nielsen. Cool, but does he even know what funk is? Maybe if he was handed a James Brown or Tower of Power album, he could say it was funk, but what makes those funky? It’s the grooves, the bass lines, the changes, and these all pervade Neil’s album, not only in the arranging but because of his funk bass player.

Every comparison or reference in the review is based on TV or video games, making some of us wonder if Anders ever gets out of his house to hear live music. Even the one possibly live reference, to Peruvian pan flute buskers, sounds more like a reference to a South Park episode than to any personal experience.

He makes a few legitimate points which people can agree or disagree with: that the album is tough to classify, that Neil is a skilled player, that Nielsen doesn’t like the keyboard tone. But much of the snarkiness is gratuitous and pretty clearly uninformed. In fact, I noticed this same gratuitous snarkiness in the other review by Nielsen on the same page, so my concerns aren’t just about the review of Neil’s album.

I was just looking again at some of the online comments I’ve seen about this review, and remembering some of the scoffing about The Bollard I heard from area musicians, producers, and businesspeople, and I don’t think The Bollard deserves that kind of reputation. Assigning Nielsen to this review (and maybe to any review, given the careless cynicism of his writing style) is like assigning me to write about heavy metal, which I deliberately never listen to.

To write a review, you have to have some understanding and meaningful language about music, to avoid coming off as “deaf,” as one commentator called him, or as “a little bitch,” as he was described by another musician in town. That’s pretty strong condemnation, but then again, it’s no small thing for a writer to casually diss a recording without any real content to his review, apparently just to see his own clever words in print.

If Nielsen was hoping to be in people’s faces, he’s got his wish by the fact that his review is pretty high in the Google searches. But I think the writing is too weak to say anything serious or comprehensible about the music, and instead conveys the impression of being written by a snobby couch potato. Unless The Bollard is looking for notoriety as much as respect, it should be aware that reviews like Nielsen’s don’t do much for Portland’s music or for The Bollard’s reputation and readership.


— Ed Pearlman, South Portland