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Sweet sounds of The South

Oxford American 2007 Southern Music CD #9 -
Various Artists

(Oxford American Magazine cover-mounted CD)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 24, 2007
Various Artists

Review by Tony Bonyata

One of the albums that I continually look forward to each year is the release of the Oxford American Southern Music CD. Don't look for it in your local music store though (if you even have a local music store in your area anymore), but rather on the magazine racks at better bookstores, as this wonderfully enriching compilation is a cover-mounted CD on the magazine Oxford American.

Oxford American is a well-respected quarterly literary periodical that features writing and art from a wealth of talented Southerners. Despite ceasing publication a few times since its inception fifteen years ago, the periodical has always managed to rise from the ashes - often with the financial support of writers and artists themselves (author John Grisham helped get the publication back on its feet with financial backing after the magazine first stopped publication in '95).

Luckily the one thing that's survived through the years is their annual free cover-mounted Southern Music CD on their equally coveted yearly Music Issue. The music compiled takes a deep, hard look into the sounds of the South - both past and present, and mixes in a thick stew of regional musical genres - from bluegrass, mountain folk, Delta blues, Nashville country, soul, rock, R&B and others. This year marks the ninth annual Southern Music CD and it follows in the footsteps of its predecessors perfectly with a rich mix of varying styles and artists (some of these artists you've heard of before - although a good chance not the songs featured here - while there will inevitably be a handful who will be new to you).

Just a few of the many highlights that fill out this twenty-six song collection are the Hackensaw Boys mix of old-timey roots music, bluegrass and hint of punk ethos on their spirited and exhilarating southern reel "Look Out Dog, Slow Down Train," as well as the mesmerizing and harrowing take of "Katie Cruel" by early '60s Greenwich Village folk-singer and banjo player Karen Dalton. The Clovers turn in their own jazzy R&B gem on their 1952 number "One Mint Julep," while improvisational jazz master pianist Thelonious Monk is captured here with his smoky 1952 delicacy "Trinkle, Tinkle," where his inventive approach to piano delivers both melody and percussion. Reverend Charlie Jackson's true-grit blues is also documented here with his song "Morning Train," while The Parchman Farm Prison Band deliver their own howling blues rocker, "Parchman Farm."

Further rounding out this CD is Southern big-band swing (Don Redman's 1932 "That Blue Eyed Baby From Memphis"), New Orleans '60s soul (on the Allen Toussaint produced "If I Were A Carpenter" by Eldridge Holmes), country-swing (on the irrepressible hootenanny of Dan Hick's & The Hot Licks "I Feel Like Singing"), early alt-country (from Gram Parsons' first recording group The International Submarine Band) and even mid-'60s Texas garage-rock (Zakary Thaks' first and only single "Bad Girl").

There are just too many other interesting artists and numbers to mention in this space (aww what the heck, here are a few more… Van Dyke Parks' quirky "G-Man Hoover," the heartbreak of Dwight Yoakum's country ballad "Yet To Succeed" and the spooky, frail folk from bipolar singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston). The bottom line is, just do yourself a favor and the next time you're at the newsstand pick up a copy of this great publication and great CD. It'll be the best $9.95 you've spent in awhile.

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