Tony Bennett is not the kind of guy to give an A just for effort -- unless it's an effort that strikes him as being an exceptionally honest album.
The News Tribune's new music reviewer likes things that aren't perfect, he likes honesty and he likes serious work with a sense of humor.
He's also not afraid to go thumbs down and has already been called out in the Letters to the Editor section for a review where he referred to a musician as sounding like "Jason Mraz with hiccups."
"What good would a reviewer be if they hear something, hate it and say 'It's got good points. I kind of like the guitar on Track 3.' That's worthless," Bennett said. "Imagine a world of reviews like that; if I went to 'Scary Movie 5' and said 'I liked the font on the title sequence.'"
Bennett also likes stuff. He recommended Ol' Yeller's new album and said of Rich Mattson: "This guy's not writing prog-rock epics any time soon. He's churning out barebones Minnesota-set anthems like a kind of Robert Pollard of the north."
Bennett is a Duluth-raised musician and freelance writer. He was in The Dames from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s -- sharing a stage at times with artists ranging from Atmosphere to The Melvins -- and since then has fronted the local pop band Cars & Trucks, which will be releasing a new album in about March.
Bennett talked to the News Tribune about what he listens to when he isn't reviewing local music, his philosophy on reviews and whether he is terrified of dissing his peers in the music community.
Bennett replaced previous reviewer John Ziegler in November.
Q: Are you always listening to music, and what are you into right now?
TB: I get in weird kicks and I obsess over a band. Right now I'm listening to this band Dust. They put out a couple of albums in the 1970s. It's Marky Ramone's band before The Ramones. There are choice tracks on there. He plays ways he wasn't allowed to play with The Ramones.
I'm also reading Pete Townshend's autobiography, picking up The Who rarities and trying to expand my knowledge of The Who. These days I'm stuck in the late '60s, early '70s and rock music.
(KUWS-FM music director) Walt Dizzo was asking me why the other night. I think it's because I can discover them on my own without anyone saying anything about it. There are not tastemakers making suggestions when you're mining the past.
It's all real. Rock bands when rock bands were like, "We can be whoever we want to be."
I listen to that music and I hear the potential of rock music. When I listen to rock bands now, I hear them emulating things that have happened. I've locked into that era as being rife with potential. It seems the most real to me. You can listen to the early punk bands or The Band and you can hear a little of that, too.
Put on a Yardbirds album and I'm pretty happy.
Q: You just dissed tastemakers, but in this role wouldn't you consider yourself kind of a tastemaker?
TB: That would be foolish. I'm just a loudmouth, that's all.
Q: What's your philosophy when it comes to reviewing music?
TB: I just feel like the only way I'm of any use is if I'm honest. And being totally honest is not necessarily fun for me. I have to say, "I'm going to tear this person's art down." Then I tell myself it's no big deal.
I read reviews and always have. I've always used them to help me find more music and determine whether something is in my wheelhouse.
Hopefully other people know the work I've done and they can take my advice with a grain of salt one way or the other.
Maybe I've got a little bit of authority (as a musician). I've always complained about music writers who don't play music. But that would be ridiculous that everyone who writes about music has to be a musician. I think it helps if you have the touchstones.
Q: You are part of this town's music community. Does it worry you to review your friends?
TB: Yeah, absolutely. There is probably going to come a time when someone I knew fairly well makes an album I'm not super hot on and I'm going to have to talk about it. I'll have to find an angle that's honest. I'm not going to tear someone down just to tear them down. I'm not going to act like I'm some sort of arbiter of taste. I can just say when I like it and what strikes me as honest and false.
Q: I think you've probably had the fastest turnaround for a new reviewer in already getting a letter to the editor.
TB: I thought it was fairly fast. Do you want me to be boring? Am I supposed to write a clinical analysis of it or should I write something that has interest?
I'm not interested in skewering people for sport. But if you put out an album that sounds like 311 waking up on the wrong side of the gutter ... that's the kind of thing that comes out of my mouth and I'd hit backspace. If you make an album that sounds like Creed, I'm going to make fun of you, because that's terrible.
If it has heart and is honest and if you aren't trying to be someone else, chances are I'm going to dig it.
I have no illusions that I'm some sort of ... that my opinion is higher than anyone else's.
To learn more
Read more about the News Tribune's new music reviewer Tony Bennett at fun.areavoices.com.