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The View from Here

Defining what is and what isn’t Southern music is often an exercise in futility. The latest issue of The Oxford American, however, offers an excellent compilation of the best music the South has ever inspired.

And inspired is what makes Southern music unique in the typically over-produced, cookie-cutter, mass-marketed bland musical landscape.

From the hauntingly smooth lament of The Staple Singers to the boisterous Cajun hillbilly antics of The Hackberry Ramblers with a taste of R.E.M. thrown in for good measure, the OA’s Southern Sampler 1998 CD blends the complex diversity of the blues, country, bluegrass, swing, jazz and rock into an audio masterpiece.

Not only entertaining, the magazine’s second annual double issue will educate the neophyte and well-versed alike. Call it Southern Music 101.

It’s what readers have come to expect from The Oxford American.

Since it’s first issue back in the spring of 1992, it’s evolved from A Magazine from the South to The Southern Magazine of Good Writing. On its long, strange trip, the OA has remained always dedicated to excellence and given its readers a transcendent glimpse of Southern art, history and philosophy with a stout dose of humor.

I’ve always been an OA reader, and I’m the proud owner of the four original issues that were published before John Grisham infused the magazine with a guiding spirit — and a bit of operating capital, one suspects — in February 1995.

The OA’s trials and tribulations have only made it stronger. Hopefully, it’ll be around for a long while and keep assembling a yearly music issue because whatever “Southern music” is — whether it’s about the Delta, New Orleans, Nashville, Athens or Austin sound — it’s the best.

Find a copy of The Oxford American. Rip it open, find the CD and listen to it. Over and over. Savor the excellence.

Jim Laird is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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