Apart from Metro itself, one of my favorite magazines is undoubtedly The Oxford American — and the highpoint of the year for The OA is undoubtedly its annual music issue. (I’m not alone in thinking this; previous music issues have won National Magazine Awards and other distinguished honors.) Since the late ’90s, the magazine has each year produced a CD exploring the South’s rich musical landscape and long and diverse heritage. Last year brought a double CD, the first sampling music from throughout the entire region and a second devoted to Arkansas musicians; this year continues that latter trend, with a single CD putting a new state — Alabama — on the turntable (so to speak).
In the midst of being bludgeoned by holiday music over the last month or two, I couldn’t wait to slide in this year’s disc — and I was amply rewarded. The beauty of each of these CDs is how suddenly and effortlessly it jumps from one genre to another or one era to the next. The K-Pers’ “The Red Invasion” (1968), for example, is followed by a song from twenty years earlier — eons away stylistically: the folksy “New Mule Skinner Blues” by The Maddox Brothers and Rose. Elsewhere, Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits capture the early-’80s punk-rock vibe with “Gangland Wars” before giving way to some country blues from Dan Pickett in “99 1/2 Won’t Do.”
Don’t like one genre or style? Hold tight; the next is only a song away. And even the most discerning listener shouldn’t have trouble finding favorites. Among my own: Mary Gresham’s “Get on Back on the Right Track” (fine early-’70s soul); Hardrock Gunter & The Pebbles “Gonna Dance All Night” (“old time boogie” as the lyrics themselves say); Sammy Salvo’s “A Mushroom Cloud” (lounge-y, looming, brooding); G-Side’s “Huntsville International” (Southern rap); and Eddie Cole’s “Abalabip” (swinging jazz). Rev. Fred Lane (neither a Reverend, nor a Fred, nor named Lane) offers a dark, dark tale of murder and misogyny amidst the squawk and tumble of “Rubber Room” — certainly the CD’s oddest offering. And it’s worth mentioning that several tracks are ultra contemporary, including Phosphorescent’s “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama),” which the Washington Post just named among its own top 25 songs of 2010.
As with previous issues, the magazine prints a feature article on each performer featured on the CD, giving readers a privileged glimpse not just inside individual biographies but also inside the music business, music history, and an entire state’s artistic output.
In short, highly recommended. Get your copy now. — Art Taylor