09 December 2008
Oxford American's 10th Southern Music Issue
Yesterday I opened the mail and found this image of a grinning Jerry Lee Lewis standing there, donning a baby blue plaid suit, spectacularly white shoes against vivid red shag carpet and drapes. I grinned back. I was holding my copy of the new Oxford American magazine. I generally don't get too excited these days, much less over a magazine. But as I pulled the new OA out of its plastic wrapper I felt like a kid opening a pogo stick shaped birthday present. (I always wanted a pogo stick but never got one.) At that moment, I truly felt truth in the hackneyed saying: "it's the little things that matter."
Now, any issue of the Oxford American magazine is a treat for me, but this one particular issue each year is my very favourite. It is the MUSIC ISSUE. If you are already familiar with the past OA sampler discs, you know what I'm talking about. If not, lemme let you in on a treat.
The annual OA music issue is the best mix-tape you'll get all year. Especially if you have more than a passing interest in Southern and Southern-inspired music. Even in these internet days of it being easy to find just about anything you can name, when you don't have to dig through dusty record bins and endure cooler-than-you store clerks, you'd likely still not come up with this comprehensive a collection of tunes. Many of the tunes are cooler than one might expect at first glance. Some of them might not even like at first, but many of them grow on you and get down in the recesses of your brain, maybe evoking something you might've heard, or maybe just dreamed. The songs span from 1928 to 2008. From Blind Willie McTell to Richard Hell, The Residents and the Hampton Grease Band, Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, Big Star and Jerry Lee Lewis. And, as they say, so much more.
This issue, being their 10th anniversary, the folks at Oxford American have treated us to a double CD with 28 songs on each, and there's not a dud among them. I'm sure of this because I've just listened through it twice even though it's been less than a day since I peeled the cellophane off. Some of the songs, naturally, you'll like more than others, but all are worth a listen. Some of the stuff I can near to guarantee that you've not heard before. Not even on the coolest Radio 1190 show or whatever nifty little indie radio station you happen to have within your airwaves. Then, mixed in with the obscure is the relief of some familiar favourites like Lucinda Williams, Neko Case and R.E.M.
And, as if the discs weren't enough, there's the magazine! Some of the best music writers around (and I say that in true sincerity as I really don't like much music writing anymore) treat us to some genuine, smart and funny writing on the artists. I forget it's music writing. I've just started Jack Pendarvis' article on Neko Case and maybe it's not that funny, but I've already laughed my stomach muscles sore.
Just when I was falling into a numb, music-saturated, oh so sick of all the peripheral static of keeping up with a music scene and all its neurotic stuff phase, just when all I craved was silence, the Oxford American leaned over the muddy waters with a steady hand to pull me out.