The Oxford American, a regional magazine showcasing southern culture, came out with its first southern music issue in 1996. In addition to articles, it included a complimentary CD featuring an eclectic assortment of music that, according to founder Smirnoff, “springs from a place where America’s favorite musical genres . . . also sprang from.” As stated in the introduction, Smirnoff conceived the music issue as an antidote to Rolling Stone, which he felt had lost the cultural relevance it had previously held. With contributions from Nick Tosches, Robert Palmer, Robert Gordon, and Peter Guralnick, some of the top music writers, Smirnoff reminds us what good music writing is. This compilation is full of little gems, including Susan Straight’s tender reminiscence of the music of Al Green, Tom Piazza’s harrowing account of his encounter with bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin, and John Fergus Ryan’s report of his time backstage with Jerry Lee Lewis in 1970. Also included are Jerry Wexler on Dusty Springfield, Roy Blount Jr. on Ray Charles, and John Jeremiah Sullivan on Chris Bell (of Big Star). Unfortunately, no CD is included. --Ben Segedin
"What the magazine does, that no other music publication bothers with, is examining music for what it can say about American history."