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 author reflects on his all-consuming obsession with the White Stripes: "But now—a husband and father of two young boys, a mortgage holder soon to be bushwhacked by forty? Is it not shameful, obsession in this strata of life? Shameful because irresponsible. Irresponsible because every real obsession is an expensive, fatiguing time-suck. How does a grown man come to obsess over a rock band unless something fundamental is lacking in his psyche and soul?"
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.
Short fiction by Glenn Taylor from our Spring 2017 issue.
I knew something was amiss when I began to see men and women on the street as trees. Their arms were branches and their fingers twigs. Some were sprouting little green buds that looked like lima bean fingernails. Every shoestring was a rat snake. Every breast an eggplant, every swinging dick a banana.
Notes on the songs from our 18th Southern Music Issue CD: Visions of the Blues.
As we conceived of this issue, we sought a model for our task. (Metaphor, after all, is a hallmark of great blues.) The natural impulse behind this work, music writing—blues music writing, no less—points to the image of the lantern: illuminator, bringing light to darkened places. But a more appropriate one here is the prism: refractor, dispersing pure light to reveal the color spectrum.
When I was growing up here in the 1980s, the larger world told us we had nothing to be proud of. As Eastern Kentuckians, we knew better. We had our people, our work ethic, and our land. And we had our internationally known musicians: Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Jean Ritchie, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, many others. In our little corner of Southeastern Kentucky, we had the Phipps Family—lesser known but still a great source of pride for us.
Maybe the least expected of the factors that went into making ska in those years, and the one many would argue that most nearly approached it in sound, leading most directly to its birth, came not from Jamaica at all, or even from the Caribbean, but from West Tennessee, and more specifically from South Memphis, and more specifically than that, from the band called the Beale Streeters, and most specifically of all from the right hand of their pianist and sometime singer-songwriter, a Memphis native named Rosco Gordon.
A Points South essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.
Lillie’s sound is not readily identifiable as black or white but seems a merger of the two as she effortlessly blends country and blues in a haunting song about family loss. Noticeably absent is the Gullah Geechee accent, and she finds little use for vibrato. Instead, a pure, unadorned, angelic quality characterizes her soprano. Such simplicity proves effective in conveying Lillie’s innermost thoughts—her pain.
Originally published in our 2007 Music Issue
In a remarkable 1963 appearance with Juilliard professor and friend, Hall Overton, at the New School in New York, Monk demonstrated his technique of “bending” or “curving” notes on the piano, the most rigidly tempered of instruments. He drawled notes like a human voice and blended them (playing notes C and C-sharp at the same time, for example) to create his own dialect. Overton told the audience, “That can’t be done on piano, but you just heard it.” He then explained that Monk achieved it by adjusting his finger pressure on the keys, the way baseball pitchers do to make a ball’s path bend, curve, or dip in flight.
Gospel belongs to God and the blues is the Devil’s business, and here the blues takes the form of Son Thomas, whose spare bottleneck slide strips the tradition down to its roots. Son’s been sculpting figures and heads and skulls from clay gathered in the nearby hills for just about as long as he’s been playing the blues, which is to say: all his life.