Oxford American – Music Issue 2023

So now that it is December, we are pleased to tell all you music fans that the annual Oxford American magazine music issue has once again arrived, and is for sale at Highlife. We have told you before about the admirable mission of this amazing cultural project, but just let it be said that it remains probably the only chance you will ever have to learn about/hear people like R.E.M., Roberta Flack, Amanda Shires, LeAnn Rimes, Madvillain, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the history of Murder Ballads, all in one place.

The way this thing works is that the people who put this gem out each year choose a theme (Ballads this year) and then source written work, and a wildly diverse collection of music, to paint a rich and soulful picture of the people who inhabit the Southern States in the USA.

This year, its 25th annual, rather than having the magazine act as the liner notes for the CD (as they have done many tines), the words and music work in tandem to lead us to explore many of the ways that music comes from, connects to, and enriches our lives.

Musically we encounter artists like Pink Anderson, Dom Flemmons, Okkervill River, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and The Local Honeys. In the magazine this year, we read many diverse stories about topics including Tom Petty’s collaborations with Stevie Nicks; the life of Chilean music legend Violetta Para; Roseanne Cash’s reflections on her landmark 1993 album “The Wheel”; and a profile of much celebrated long time R&B radio show (that I had never heard of) out of Washington DC’s Howard University – called “Quiet Storm” – hosted by DJ Melvin Lindsey.  As they do these days, this year’s Music issue comes with both an amazingly diverse Cd (18 songs / 74 minutes) and a number of curated Spotify playlists that each take us to an interesting and deeply soulful place.

As I mentioned, this year’s theme is Ballads, and as a result, the music of Appalachia is featured here in many ways. Amongst other things, we learn about an 8th generation ballad singer (Donna Ray Norton of Madison County, North Carolina);  a celebrated book called “Some Ballad Folks” by Thomas G. Burton published by the Centre for Appalachian Studies in 1978; and a ten page 10-song history of the “Murder Ballad” beginning in England around 1684, and moving towards the 1930s in Appalachia.

This issue also takes a deep dive into part of Aretha’s gospel album “Amazing Grace”; an archival look at the first ever recorded fife and drum music of Sid Hemphill; an examination of the birth and growth of the band R.E.M. – in Athens, Georgia – the bohemian outpost in the Deep South – during the Reagan years; and an explanation of how karaoke and the large Filipino population of Houston, Texas, helped to make Beyonce’s song “Listen” (from “Dream Girls”) the unofficial anthem of the Philippines.

I could go on and on, but will stop here, and leave the rest for you to find for yourself. In closing I will say that it does a person’s heart good to know that somewhere in Little Rock, in alliance with the University of Central Arkansas – there are people who love music, sharing, & learning as much as I do.

I have been buying the annual Music issue of this magazine now, each year, for a long time. I do this to learn new things about the music I love, and to lead me to the answers to questions I didn’t even know I needed to ask. I also buy copies to give as presents for friends. You of course will have your own reasons, but I encourage you to come and get your copy, still for only $25, before they are all gone.

Nothing …. anywhere else in music ….  is like the annual Oxford American Music issue.

Here’s to the next 25 years!

– by Bill Hood

By |2023-12-10T22:52:22-08:00December 10th, 2023|Bill's Picks, NEW RELEASES & STAFF PICKS|0 Comments

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