The Oxford American‘s 12th annual Southern Music edition — with 176 pages and a CD with 26 songs featuring music from Alabama — is now available in bookstores and newsstands nationwide, if anybody visits those kinds of places anymore.
This is the second year that The Oxford American‘s Southern Music Issue focuses on the musical heritage of a particular Southern state. Arkansas was featured in last year’s edition.
“Because of the wealth of musical genres that come from Alabama, and the wealth of great artists within those genres, it is impossible to define Alabama music in a single blurb,” says Marc Smirnoff, editor of The Oxford American. “Which is just the way we like it. We enjoyed the complexity and richness of our target state.”
Over the years, The Oxford American‘s Music Issue and CD has generated much praise, from the BBC to the New York Times. The Houston Chronicle has called it “the single best music-related magazine of any given year,” while the Boston Globe simply termed it “a welcome fix.”
Musicians like Dolly Parton, Chris Isaak, and Tom Petty have also gone on record to praise it.
The music issue and CD is an annual treasure trove for music fanatics who welcome the introductions to lesser-known but fascinating musical artists from the South.
“I know that The OA has a reputation for finding and celebrating obscure artists,” Smirnoff says. “But our trick, really, is that we try to locate heart-breaking, soul-stirring, great music—great music that will contribute to the ultimate Southern-music party mix. The fact that many of these artists are underappreciated just adds to the fun and makes for a double whammy.”
Some of the artists featured on this year’s OA Alabama CD are, in fact, well known, like Dinah Washington (covering a song from another Alabama hero, Hank Williams) and folk icon Odetta (covering a song from Bob Dylan), but the vast majority of the artists — like soul siren Mary Gresham and teen garage rockers The K-Pers, among many others — will likely be new to listeners.
“We don’t just want to shovel the expected and over-familiar at our readers. Our readers are smarter than that and demand more from us,” says Smirnoff. “They can get the over-familiar elsewhere if they want it. By relying on great obscure music, we get to challenge our audience, which they seem to really love.”
Not to be outdone is the award-winning writing in the magazine, which also contributes to the “double whammy” effect, with many of the most heralded and well-respected music writers participating in the project.
Among the writers in this year’s issue are Greil Marcus (with a rare fiction, told from the point of view of real-life blues legend Skip James), John Jeremiah Sullivan (who’s twice been collected in Da Capo’s Best Music Writing anthology), Rachael Maddux (from the recently expired Paste magazine), Dan Baum (ex-New Yorker staff writer), Jamey Hatley (a young African-American writer whose piece is about how she overcame her distaste for blues music), and funny man Jack Pendarvis (whom Smirnoff terms a “troublemaker”).
You can’t listen to the music online from here, but here’s the link to the site.
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