Well, if the days are getting short and the temperature cold, you know it is time for the arrival of one of the joys of the winter calendar, the annual music issue of Oxford American, the magazine of the written culture of, and “documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South”.
This year’s edition (the 23rd annual) appears to be one of the best ever. First off, it again comes with a CD – this year including 20 songs and 75+ minutes – that sounds like another mixtape from your crazy relative with the world’s largest and best record collection. This remains one of the best places to find your next favourite music, and to learn about some of the many crucial things that you didn’t even know your understanding of music was missing.
The focus this year’s issue is “the impossible hope of movement”. It, in particular, looks at “The Great Migration” – when (between 1910 and 1970) over six million Americans of African heritage moved north from the southern states, seeking opportunity and a better life. These writers, in this issue, take you with them and their music when their parents moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles in the 1950’s ; up to the music in the El Grotto Lounge, in Battle Creek, Michigan in the 1970’s ; and finally to the beginnings of Tennessee-born Tina Turner’s carrier in East St. Louis, in the early 1950’s. We also learn about Buddy Guy’s journey into the music, and eventually to his Checkerboard Lounge, in Chicago ; the musical evolution of Lowell George – from The Standells, to the Mothers of Invention, to Little Feat ; and how Fontella Bass (and her trumpet playing husband – Lester Bowie) move from St. Louis up to Chicago in 1965 , where she recorded one of the iconic soul records of all time – “Rescue Me”.
We are also invited to learn about Aretha Franklin’s talented, younger, sister Carolyn; how the sounds of Louisiana found their way up to a young Daniel Lanois in Hamilton, Ontario; and then how an encounter with blues singer Brother John Sellers – in 1961, in Greenwich Village – helped a young Alvin Ailey formulate the core of his vision vision for modern dance. This issue also includes a photo essay and introduction to the work of the iconic African American music photographer Kwame Brathwaite, and a vintage “Invisible Man” photo by the legendary photographer Gordon Parks.
We haven’t even begun to talk about the CD – “a curated collection of songs – old and new – that reverberate with the pulse of hope in motion”. Quick question : What do Mary Lou Williams, the Black Pumas, John Doe (from”X”), (Miles Davis’ partner) Betty Davis, Aretha Franklin, The Fleet Foxes, Duke Ellington, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe … along with 12 other acts (that I dare you to say you already know about) have in common? Answer – this CD.
There are also links to a series of specially curated Spotify playlists by people like Leon Bridges and Adrian Quesada (of the Black Pumas) to lead you down many magical musical rabbit holes.
Lastly, there is also a very good chance that this review – as long as it is – does not even mention the part of this issue that will be your personal favourite story, or tune.
As the editor, Danielle A. Jackson, quotes (from James Baldwin) in her introductory letter “Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us to be free, if we would listen.”
Not bad for less than $25.00
Come and get yours before they sell out.