The Oxford American magazine recently released its Twelfth Annual Southern Music Issue, and, as always, the magazine and enclosed CD are outstanding. Oxford American is billed as “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing,” and once a year, it devotes an issue to southern music, including a CD of the music discussed in the magazine. I first discovered the annual music issue in 1999, when my friend and co-worker Sid gave me my first copy, and I have been following the magazine ever since.
The “southern music” of these issues consists of nuggets of a wide variety of the good stuff. In the CDs I have from past annual music issues, the artists included people I already knew – such as Sonny Burgess, Odetta, and the Del McCoury Band – to new discoveries for me – like the Gosdin Brothers’ 1968 recording of “There Must Be Someone (I Can Turn To)” on this year’s CD. There are occasional odd gems, like when the 2000 CD included a recording of Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish singing “Leaning” from Night of the Hunter that made me love the song and his voice outside the context of the haunting scene in the movie.
Last year, Oxford American started a new approach with its music issue. Instead of covering a broad geography, the magazine began to focus on one state each year. Last year was Arkansas, and this year’s issue concentrates on Alabama. I really liked the previous broader approach, but the state-by-state approach is growing on me. And either way, it is the best magazine-CD out there, and it still covers a wide range of styles and time, with songs from the 1940s through 2010. Additionally, I like that the magazine’s approach has evolved over the years so now there is a feature story about each track on the CD.
There are also other articles, like fiction by Greil Marcus and an article about the song-writing team of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. Never heard of the Bryants? The article will tell you the story behind their songs recorded by the Everly Brothers, like “Bye Bye Love” (recorded by the Everlys just to get the $64 session fee).
Oxford American has struggled through the years to stay in business (like another music magazine I loved, No Depression). From my recollection, and from the missing CD in my collection from one year, the magazine’s troubles peaked in 2004 when they stopped publishing for a period. Do not let that happen again. You may pick up the magazine at most bookstores or order the magazine and back issues from the website, which also has this year’s track listing (under “Further Listening”). FYI, I have no affiliation with the magazine, I just wanted to share.
A version of this review was also published at NoDepression.com