Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Oxford American: Bargain of the Year

Oxford American is a Southern literary magazine that comes out quarterly. Their last issue, the Southern Food issue, was guest-edited by John T. Edge, and was just fantastic. The annual Southern Music issue is out now, which always comes with a free CD. The cover price is $10, and it's the fucking bargain of the century. The CD has 29 songs on it, almost none of which are less than great. And, with a couple exceptions, each song is accompanied by a 1-to-5-page essay. Whatever kind of music you like, it's here. There's funk and soul from Al Green, Jim Ford, Howard Tate (incredible!), a manic Joe Tex, and Erma Franklin (Aretha's sister) doing the original version of "Piece of My Heart." There's blues from Lightnin' Hopkins and Blind Willie McTell. For rockers, there's classic rockabilly from Dale Hawkins, Texas garage psychedelia from Bubble Puppies, and some sizzlin' Johnny Winter. Old-school country, western and bluegrass is well-represented by Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Lee Wills, Cowboy Jack Clements, The DeZurik Sisters (doing some fine yodeling), The Wilburn Bros., and an AMAZING song from Sammi Smith that just put me out on the floor. Erykha Badhu has a song called "Southern Gul" that's funkier'n fried fuck. There's New Orleans jazz from Bessie Smith, Nat King Cole, and Helen Humes, and a great gospel track called "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb" from The Pilgrim Travelers, all leading up to Elvis delivering a climactic live performance of "Suspicous Minds" that is just EPIC. Plus there's a poem about REM's Murmer album, and a great short story involving Lorretta Lynne.

I'm going to drop a couple mp3's on ya, probably the two weirdest tracks on the disc. The first is from writer Zora Neale Hurston, who did some work documenting the folklore of her (and my) home state, Florida (she was born in Eatonville and died in Fort Pierce), in the 30's and 40's. "No other State in the Union has had the history of races blended and contending," Hurston wrote in her proposal to chase these figures down; in Florida, she insisted, there was still "an opportunity to observe the wombs of folk culture still heavy with life." This is a recording of Zora singing a Bahamanian folk song called "The Crow Dance" (the magazine features a photo of her dancing with wings spread). I love the crooked rhythm of this thing--I could see building a great track around a sample of it. This really makes me want to track down some of her writings on Florida folklore.

The second one is by Moondog, of whom I had never heard, but he seems to be one of the all-time great weird musicians. He was a blind guy who panhandled on the corner in NYC for years dressed as a viking while composing 9-hour symphonies of ridiculously complex counterpoint requiring 1,000 musicians and often incorporating homemade instruments and street sounds. Most people assumed he was just some homeless lunatic, but his recordings and compositions were admired by Charlie Parker and Igor Stravinsky.


If you listened to NPR at all last week, you probably heard about the newly-discovered Monk/Trane performance that was just released. Great story, and the stuff sounds really good. The thing that blew me away the most was that the bill for that 1957 concert inluded Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker with Zoot Sims, and Sonny Rollins, and the most expensive tickets were $4!!! Also on NPR, I never thought I'd be interested in a version of "Born to be Wild" again, but The Knitters' version sounds quite amazing.

LA Weekly has their annual "Best of L.A." edition out right now, which has developed over the years away from being a list of a bunch of restaurants and stuff that repeats every year, toward being a collection of great essays extolling the city's virtues. My favorite is this one, which really nails what it is I love about L.A. right now, and why I think it's the food culture that makes this such a great damn city.

PBS is running a documentary on P-Funk tonight on Independent Lens, although it looks like it won't be shown here until Saturday (10pm on KCET).


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