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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The pain in my midsection felt like a dull routine by the time I came across the Vintage brass Made in India red and white mother of pearl bracelet, a pretty little scallop-edged bangle that caught my eye as I was idly scrolling around on eBay. There was something charismatic about it, winking out from its dark tiny cell of a thumbnail photo. It seemed to appeal to me personally, like a particular kitten or puppy at the pound who makes eye contact. It gave me déjà vu, reminded me of some dim, distant place I couldn’t quite identify.
I first wrote Charlie Engle a letter because I was fascinated by his life. It gave me a sense of vertigo to know that when we’d met, in the hills of Tennessee, he’d had no idea what was about to happen, how everything was going to change. I wondered what incarceration was like for him.
In 2008, a massive retention pond at a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-fired power plant burst open, spilling more than a billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers, burying about 400 acres of land under six feet of ash. The spill was one hundred times greater in volume than the Exxon Valdez spill and by far the largest coal ash disaster in U.S. history. When TVA decided to send the ash by train to a small, poor, rural, mostly black community outside Uniontown, Alabama, the EPA approved the decision. That same day, the first train of eighty cars clicked down the tracks to Alabama.
In my youth, I’d often join my grandmother for dinner at the iconic white-tablecloth steak house she owned in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. She dominated the dining room from table 83, a four-top with the best sight lines of the entire restaurant. On the wall behind her permanent seat, over her left shoulder, hung a grand painting: a Mardi Gras tableau of a half dozen white-robed men carrying torches, leading a parade down a spectator-thronged French Quarter street.
We are saddened to learn of the death of legendary Texas music writer Margaret Moser on Friday, August 25. In this feature essay for the OA’s 2014 Texas Music Issue, written just after her cancer diagnosis, Moser shares vivid stories from her pioneering career:
“A life writing about music wasn’t part of the plan, but then I’d had no plan. I had dropped out of high school, didn’t attend college, had no special training or talent for much, other than a knack for making a place for myself where places didn’t exist. I’ve long joked that I got in through the back door, so whenever I am let in through the front door, I run to the back to see who I can let in.”
A short story by John McManus.
I first met Max on my way home from the Gulp, a bottomless whirlpool in the Everglades where people go to commit suicide. This was in 2005. You have to hike six miles along a blackwater canal dug by Andrew Jackson’s slaves, to a remote lake where you wade out until you’re sucked under to drown. Your body turns up in the Intracoastal Waterway. I don’t know the physics of it.
Claudia Delfin has spent her life shuttling between El Paso and Juárez—for a time, under the thick fog of drugs and addiction, as a sex worker and minor gangster. She’s been clean for eight years and now works as a drug counselor for a local nonprofit, hauling addicts out of the same slums where she used to score and delivering them back to life, if they’ll let her.