As we pass another solstice and cope as best we can with the coldness of another winter, we can count ourselves fortunate that the folks at Oxford American have again sent us their annual collection of writing and music curation in magazine and CD form.
This year’s (24th) annual music edition focuses on the roots of Country Music. The accompanying CD (19 songs and 67 + minutes long) continues the OA tradition of assembling songs that touch both the depths of tradition and the cutting edge of today’s latest imagination, while helping us all get a broader awareness of the range and history of the music we think we know.
This year there is of course the expected nod towards central Country artists like Hank Williams with a nine page in depth examination of the life and creative vision of the artist who has come to be known as the Hillbilly Shakespeare. At the same time we are invited to learn about a number of people we may be less familiar with. There is for instance, the politically progressive and incendiary Lee Bains III from Alabama, and Margo Cilker from Oregon – whose recent debut album features a who’s who of alt-country in her backing band. Also featured is an interview with the rising African American female Country star Mickey Guyton, and an examination of the career and iconic legacy of Tanya Tucker from 13 year old phenom to elder stateswoman.
Other written nuggets include a look at the surprisingly recent history of drums in country music (through the career of Buddy Harman, who played on some 18,000 + recordings), and the influence of the collaboration between Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris, and Dolly Parton on 1987’s album “Trio”.
The CD this year includes offerings from legendary voices such as Hank Williams, Trio (Ronstadt, Harris & Parton), Wanda Jackson, Lucinda Williams, and Mavis Staples (with Levon Helm) ; established artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Gillian Welch, and the Judds ; and newcomers to most listeners in the form of The Deslondes, Mickey Guyton, Margo Price, and Flock of Dimes.
The folks at OA also continue their ongoing examination of the role of race in American culture with a look at the Country Music connections / influences for a number of soul / hip hop artists (ie. The Pointer Sisters, Solange, Tracy Chapman, and Millie Jackson.), and the interesting reflections of the child of an interracial couple who moved to Nashville in the 1970’s where her black father both taught at Fisk University and worked to connect with the local music scene as a drummer.