"Our music should contain multitudes as well," writes Leesa Cross Smith in an essay about Sturgill Simpson in the Oxford American's 2017 music issue. The annual issue returns to its state-by-state look at some notable music (last year's focus was a departure from that usual format with Visions of the Blues). For 2017, here are the notes on the songs from the 19th Southern Music Issue CD featuring Kentucky. [more inside]
The Thinning of Big Mama: If you want to see “Big Mama” Thornton singing the blues in her prime, look up her performance of “Ball and Chain” with Buddy Guy and his band, filmed at Boston public television station WBGH’s studio in 1970, when she was forty-four. The occasion was a music show called “Mixed Bag.” (SL Oxford American/Youtube)
An Enigmatic Ex-con, His Improvised Religion, and the Georgia Town That Watched It Fall (SL Oxford American/Warning: descriptions of abuse) [more inside]
"Since 2002, Sharon Jones and her band, the Dap-Kings, have been the world’s standard-bearing funk-bringers," according to Maxwell George, writing about Jones for the Oxford American. "On Sharon’s stage, delivery and dance moves are queen, and in her audience one can rediscover the lost arts of performance: command, direction, showmanship, sincerity." Horns, funk, soul, strength—Jones and her band bring it just for you. [more inside]
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is seventy-six years old. She is wearing house slippers, a hair net, and an Atlanta Hawks t-shirt on backwards. She is probably the greatest living blues guitarist that no one has ever heard of. [more inside]
Back when Roger Miller was King of the Road, in the 1960s, he sang of rooms to let (“no phone, no pool, no pets”) for four bits, or fifty cents. I can’t beat that price, but I did once in those days come across a cabin that went for three dollars. It was in the long, slender highway town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. [more inside]
I already knew OutKast; I loved their first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in part because of the clever way they interpolated funk and soul into rap. ATLiens, however, sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard or imagined. The vocal tones were familiar, but the rhyme patterns, the composition, the production were equal parts red clay, thick buttery grits, and Mars. Nothing sounded like ATLiens. The album instantly changed not just my expectations of music, but my expectations of myself as a young black Southern artist.
Jim Dickinson was a musician, producer, and writer based in Memphis. A lifelong curator and steward of American music until his death in 2009, he fronted the band Mud Boy & the Neutrons and contributed to albums by Sleepy John Estes, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Albert King, Big Star, the Replacements, and many others. [This] essay...was adapted from his memoir The Search for Blind Lemon. [more inside]
"I have a day job in Washington, D.C., as a food critic. I’ve done it for ten years. During that time, the city has become bigger and more cosmopolitan, the restaurant scene has evolved from that of a steak & potatoes town to that of a vibrant metropolis, and people now talk excitedly about going out to eat. But what no one talks about is the almost total absence of black faces in that scene." Todd Kliman's "Coding and Decoding Dinner" explores the racial divide in D.C. dining for the Oxford American.
All I did was write personal essays inspired by old community cookbooks I found in secondhand stores. Strictly speaking, my food writing wasn’t technically about food. John T. said that didn’t matter. He wanted me to explore “trash food,” because, as he put it, “you write about class.”
Spanglish is not random. It is not simply a piecemeal cobbling-together, a collecting of scraps of random vocabulary into a raggedy orphan of a sentence. It has logic and rules, and more interestingly and importantly, it embodies a constantly shifting and intimate morphology of miscegenation. It is the mix of my husband’s innate Mexicanness and my innate Americanness, of my adaptive Mexicanness and his adaptive Americanness, in Spanish and English morphemes that come neatly together and apart like so many Legos into new and ever-changing constructions.
Alex Mar writes for the Oxford American on spending time in a convent:
I traveled here, arriving just yesterday on an early flight, to answer a question that I’ve had for years: Why would a woman make the very specific choice to marry God? I’m imagining a certain kind of woman—let’s say a woman like myself, in her mid-thirties and smart and not hard-up and with a few options in life. Why would she choose to live with his many brides and very little privacy and pooled resources; to abandon any and all romantic partners, along with the possibility of ever again touching someone else’s naked body; to set aside every personal need and closely held ambition in favor of the needs of others? I wanted to understand who this woman was—call her a nun or a sister or a woman religious—and why I’ve harbored a fantasy about her since I was a young girl.
I lay my fingertip there, just inside the socket, where some of the bone is chipped away: it was pecked out, by the beaks of vultures. These are the markings the huge black birds made when they consumed her eyes, with the permission of her family.The Oxford American on the people who work at, and the people who choose to donate their bodies to, the Forensic Anthropology Research Facility in San Marcos, Texas, the largest of America’s five “body farms.”
Could use an editor ... Oh wait. The Oxford American magazine often described as a literary publication but something more along the lines of a New Yorker-style, general interest glossy with a literary bent (albeit a stranger beast), has been in a wee bit of turmoil lately. The founding and longtime editor of the multiple-National Magazine Award-winning publication, Marc Smirnoff, was ousted in mid-July by the magazine's board in connection with charges of sexual harassment and serving alcohol to traditional college-age students, under 21. [more inside]
The Oxford American (the "Southern Magazine of Good Writing," not the dictionary) recently released their 11th annual Southern Music issue, featuring the usual CD full of "Southern Masters," and, for the first time, a special "Arkansas Masters" disc--the first of a series that brings deserved recognition to "almost teen queen Kenni Huskey" and true one-hit, one-side-of-a-45 wonderClaudia Whitten, whose "Bring Me All the Love You've Got" (mp3 link) is occasionally available as a rarity. Several of the accompanying essays are available online. [more inside]