This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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A story from our 2001 Southern Music issue.
I first heard Charley Patton thirty years ago, on a two-LP compilation called The Story of the Blues, which I won in a contest. My adolescent ear was immediately sucked in by the mystery, the wit, the slyness, and the expressive variety of the performances of Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Texas Alexander, Leroy Carr, Barbecue Bob, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Otis Spann, Blind Willie McTell, and the rest.
An essay from the Third Southern Music Issue.
Johnny Mercer, say people who knew him, was a lovely, lovely man but a mean drunk. Hey, he hung with Billie Holiday, which is more than I can say. I would love to have done the work he did (just to have written “Glow Worm”!), but if there is anything a shade irritating about his mellifluous-yet-friendly singing accent, it is that he seems to be rather too comfortably putting on a tinge of minstrelish blackness.
Algia Mae Hinton, the great blues guitarist and banjo picker, lives in Johnston County, North Carolina. It’s a short drive from Raleigh and Durham but feels rather far from those cities, with their food trucks and breweries and warehouses refitted as condos—the latest iteration of the New South, one might say, except one finds the same pattern in Brooklyn or the Bay Area. In Johnston County you drift back to an earlier era.
A comic from the Seventh Southern Music Issue.
What is an artist’s public self but a front, a collection of personal dogmas—brand of whisky, brand of politics, brand of god—perhaps no longer believed in but argued forcefully for the sake of consistency and the benefit of future biographers.
Daddy’s truck was one of those places—like a grandmother’s house, a real and actual soul food restaurant, or a barbershop owned by an older black man who guards the radio by silent threat of the revolver in his drawer next to the good clippers—where one could reliably expect to hear either (and only) 1070 WDIA or 1340 WLOK. It was the other side of sound, the other side of Southern blackness, a steady if muffled undercurrent that persisted and quietly buoyed new generations.
An essay from the Seventh Southern Music Issue, 2005.
I walked back from the mall through a hammering twilight cloudburst clutching a wet paper bag. As laughing rednecks veered through puddles and blasted arcs of oily water over me, I thought grimly, “This better be worth it.” At home, I peeled the sodden paper off the plastic wrapper of Johnny Winter And: Live, peeled off my wet clothes, and collapsed naked on the bed to listen to the album.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently listening to Bob Dylan’s second album. Not Freewheelin’, the LP with him and Suze Rotolo on the cover and “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the grooves. That’s the one we know, because a couple of songs off it were picked up by the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary—and then by everyone from Bobby Darin to Marlene Dietrich—and Dylan was hailed as a poet and the voice of a generation. But before that happened, he’d spent a year working on a follow-up to his first LP that displayed very different skills and inclinations.
A Points South essay from the Spring 2019 issue
Listen to the first two notes Raphael plays on his solo on Nelson’s “Georgia on My Mind” and it’s impossible not to hear Mickey singing the word “Georgia” through the instrument, the second syllable bending upward, just the way Willie sings it. Raphael’s harmonica grounds the song in its call-and-response gospel impulse: one voice means little without the other’s ghostly affirmation.
Blues really was the transformation of my life. When I was fifteen or sixteen, a friend and I just kind of stumbled onto the music. It was the beginning of the folk revival—1959 or 1960—and somehow in the midst of all that wholesomeness, we fell into the blues.