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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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.
I kept returning to the subject of the Nuwaubians, unable to let it go. Even a cursory amount of research showed that the group was a strange phenomenon of the modern age—a true American religion, sworn to a proto-hip-hop preacher sworn to nonsense, that attempted a takeover of a small Georgia town in the late 1990s before a joint federal-local raid brought down its leader. Beneath that historical account was a tangle of details bizarre and bottomless.
A Points South essay from the Place Issue
When I learned of El Refugio, I made a pledge to visit one day. Five years later, I made good on it. I thought of the stories inside of Stewart like a sorrowful pile, mostly forgotten or never thought about in the first place by anyone on the outside. But each story deserved to be singled out and held up to the light and examined. Each became a galaxy upon inspection.
In a place where we have few trees and a lot of wind, I’ll risk it and go out on a limb to say that Texas may be a part of the New South. Texas doesn’t believe that, but still, there’s a common bond. Almost. I think it was Leon Stokesbury who I first heard define the Southern poem. He thought such a poem likely included a big dose of heartbreak and comic sensibility featuring family, landscape, and religion in varying degrees and combination. I hear these same quirky, dusty, open-sky, heartfelt mixtures in the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, the Dixie Chicks (don’t judge), and more recently, Amanda Shires.
A Points South essay from the Spring 2020 issue
The longer I spent with members, I began to see that in some deep unconscious way, this is what drew me to the Juancun community, and perhaps what drew my parents to them, too. Chinese people who were not Chinese, in any easy definition of the term, who seemed defined entirely by what they had lost. It intrigued me that they had made a home in the South, a place that represented an additional loss I had not been able to bring myself to continually bear, dreaming every day of New York City, until I could and finally did leave. I wanted to know how, unlike me, they could stand to stay.
She is insignificant in the universe, God a sublime, untouchable peak. On the stereo is a song by her new favorite band, the Indigo Girls: Georgia nights softer than a whisper, peach trees stitched across the land, farmland like a tapestry.
Everybody I met in Augusta had a James Brown story: the Godfather of Soul roaming around town in his baby-blue Rolls-Royce, showing up unbidden at parties and concerts, hanging around like he was anyone while making sure everyone remembered exactly who he was. Many people also had a Sharon Jones story.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2019 issue.
In the Tampa exurbs, splashed across the side of a half-occupied strip mall, is a vast mural depicting the Victorian art critic-cum-philosopher-cum-political economist-cum-painter-cum-social reformer John Ruskin. He gazes out at an expanse of concrete and asphalt, most of his jaw coated in white paint to conceal an underlying scrawl of graffiti. It seems like a high-brow joke, to paint one of the nineteenth century’s leading critics of capitalism and industrialization to preside over a hollowed-out commercial landscape of accountants’ offices, pet grooming businesses, and laundromats.