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 Winter 2013, the Tennessee Music Issue.
She is a music student, slender, youthful, with the concentrated face of an alto in the chorus or a back-row violinist, frowning at her strings. Tonight, wearing black (de rigueur for her profession), she sits in a chair to the left of and slightly behind the pianist. She is invisible.
Because the house on Durwood Road did not have air-conditioning and because three seasons in Little Rock seem to be mostly summer, Bob Palmer was practicing with his bedroom window open. He sucked on the reed of his Army Band Selmer saxophone and wondered if he might someday sound like Stan Getz on the albums his dad played. No, he’d never sound like Getz, but he didn’t have to. He just had to sound like what he sounded like, and he was still figuring out what that was. He had time. He was only in junior high. His little sister, Dorothy, said he sometimes sounded “like an elephant with its trunk caught in the door. Scree! Scree!” He didn’t mind the comment. It didn’t necessarily sound good, but what did “good” mean? It was sound. And sound was interesting.
A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window curtain was an odd bird whose song I craved. I walked slow and deliberate to try and catch every note. I wanted to tell Glory to hush. This moment felt important to me, like I had just discovered some world for the first time, but Glory kept talking and kept walking. Knowing that I’d miss the end of that song, that I’d never know how it ended, made me want to cry.
Watching a movie or television show with my husband can be vexing. He’s a scenic painter, on the hard labor side of the movie-making equation in Hollywood South, as Louisiana is often called these days, now that tax credits have made our state the number-one filmmaking destination in the country.
It’s a kind of parlor game, a question someone asks at the after-party, perhaps, lounging on couches, shoes off, everyone half-drunk and one-quarter enamored and not ready for the long night to die. What’s your hidden talent? This is no invitation to brag—I got straight A’s in college, I can bench-press 220. Oh no no no, you win this game by trotting out your most bizarre and useless skill.
We were in the garden of refugees, Eh Kaw explained: what was his, as well as Semoeneh’s, was also mine. Their Baptist faith compelled them to share whatever bounty God bestowed. Eh Kaw felt blessed that he and dozens of family members and countrymen were planting yards in rural Georgia. Nothing in his past had predicted such fortune.
Three stories by David Means from our Summer 2015 issue.
You’re aware—at least I am—that eternity will devour everything in its own time, and that whatever mark is left will be gone, because that awareness is essential to the work: a sense of catching some slice of time itself, making it stand at attention, and still.
“We was on the radio at Del Rio,” recalls one of the Cowboy Kings in Clem Maverick, R. G. Vliet’s multi-voiced epic poem about the high-lonesome lovesick rise and fall of a country-western singer. “That night Clem yodeled from his toes up. Had to tote him from the mike.” Clem and the Cowboy Kings tore up their tunes as phantoms of a poet’s muse, but their flesh, blood, and whiskey kin conjured their sound into every corner of North America and beyond. Clem’s audience would have known that “the radio at Del Rio” meant one of the high-powered radio stations that dotted the northern frontier of the Republic of Mexico and blasted their signals northward in English from 1930 to 1986. Over the course of those fifty-six years, border radio’s continent-spanning coverage played a major role in popularizing just about every kind of music that came out of Texas: hillbilly, cowboy, gospel, Mexican, Tex-Mex, country-western, blues, r&b, rockabilly, and rock & roll.
No person living today knows exactly what an 1850s minstrel banjo sounded like; the music that was made on such instruments predates the invention of recorded sound. But we know that the banjo was brought to America by Africans, and that white players, including Thomas F. Briggs—author of the first banjo instruction book, an invaluable resource for historians and musicians—learned from black banjoists. When Giddens composes for or performs on her banjo, she channels both the history and the mystery of early American banjo music: what has been passed down as well as what has been lost.
A story from our Summer 2016 issue.
Blaise St. Clair once sat down to make a list of all the people she had slept with. She knew it would be more than ten. Well, she knew it would be more than twenty. She had not imagined that the number would crest a hill and roll down the other side. It was an archeological dig.