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Oxford American Magazine

One of my favorite all-time magazines is back on the shelf with its annual music issue. I’ve shilled for this magazine before when came back to the shelves after it’s second time going under. Bear with me — it’s hard to keep my excitement tempered when it comes to this thing.

The Oxford American is a modern perspective on the American South. Each issue is themed, ranging from southern food to southern movies — the upcoming issue is on Southern art and architecture — and provides social, historical and critical commentary to various aspects of these themes. This summer brings their annual music issue. It comes with a free, full-length CD and wonderful, quirky articles on the artists, their relationship to the music industry, and how they are geographically and culturally grounded in their eras.

The magazine’s website states:

The last OXFORD AMERICAN Southern Music Issue we released, in 2003, won a National Magazine Award (beating out ROLLING STONE, among others) for “outstanding achievement” in a “single-topic issue.” The judges noted that “like the bluegrass artist who bends his notes in all the right places, THE OXFORD AMERICAN finds perfect pitch in its annual Southern Music issue.” We’re grateful for that attention. But our new 2005 Southern Music Issue, if we may be so bold, is even better.

I’d agree. Their last issue was almost exclusively unknown artists, with the exception of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield, that would be completely new names to non-music junkies. However, this issue features several well-known names and people whose connections to the music industry lay primarily in the background.

Take, for instance, this version of “Take Another Piece of My Heart” by Aretha Franklin’s older sister Erma, an accomplished singer in her own right. As the author of the accompanying article states, it is difficult to compare Erma’s voice with Janis Joplin’s, who made the song famous, without concluding that Joplin is a no-talent hack who “clumsily aped the black style and the debaser of work original to someone who was her better.” Ouch. But true.

And this song by Sammi Smith, the artist who beat out Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, and every other country music artist out there to make number one on the Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles list. Brilliant stuff.

And one of my favorites, having just come from Graceland, is this live version of Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” sung to a Vegas audience weeks before the song was released as yet another tacky single which Elvis tried to use to boost his floundering credibility as an artist. As the OA website states,

You’ll probably love this performance since there’s nothing Las Vegas-schlocky about it; both Elvis and his band sound insanely red-hot. As Alan Light, former editor of SPIN, VIBE, and TRACKS, says in his perceptive companion piece, on this track Elvis “sang like a man with something to prove.”

But aside from the music, the best part of this annual music issue are the accompanying articles. The articles are written by people who clearly love music and the context in which this music is made. One in particular stands out to me, written by a young father travelling with his young son in Europe, listening to a Howard Tate song in preparation for writing this article. As he and his son listen to and share this song with one another, the author pontificates on Howard Tate’s short career, ended with drug abuse after the death of his young daughter in a house fire, and the sad situational irony of having acclaimed notoriety with a song titled “Where Did My Baby Go?

Another article that was a special treat, as a lover of Johnny Cash, is the overview of the life of Cowboy Jack Clement, a man who wrote and produced many of the classic country songs we know and love, and his special relationships with many artists who reached legendary status because of Clement’s own artistry. In particular, I love hearing Johnny Cash sing backup for Clement on a song Clement wrote that Cash made famous. This version was recorded shortly before Johnny died last year.

All this is to say that this magazine is a gem, full of excellent creative and critical writing, and is deserving of our humble eyes after rising from the dead not once but twice. Trust me. It’s wonderful.

If you happen to take a look at the magazine at my insistence, drop me a line below and tell me what you think.

Friday Random Ten – The “Title It Your Damn Self” Edition

If it’s Friday somewhere, it’s time for the Friday Random Ten. Roxanne was kind enough to point out it is already Friday in Asia, which is all I need as an excuse to publish the Friday Random Ten on a Thursday night without anything cool to do like attend the BlogHer conference this weekend.

Load all your mp3s into your player of choice, hit random and list the first ten to play. If you’re feeling sinister, exercise the coolness audit. Now, my pretties, leave yours in the comments or on your own site.


1) Elliott Smith – 2:45 am
2) Le Tigre – Darwinism and the Status Quo
3) New Order – Ceremony
4) The Russian Futurists – Our Pen’s Out of Ink
5) Peaches – Shake Yer Dix
6) Nancy Sinatra – You Only Live Twice
7) The Slits – Vindictive
8) Sir Mix A Lot – Posse on Broadway
9) Sons and Daughters – Taste the Last Girl
10) Morrissey – Irish Blood, English Heart

Bonus Guilty Please Track: Mount Sims’ Black Sunglasses. Guilty because I still can’t totally accept the new electronic music, even if it reeks of the 1980s. Okay, I lied. I kind of like it. A lot.

Mixmania Summer Edition

One of the strangest things about blogs is that it is not uncommon to see very serious posts about war and death juxtaposed with posts about cats and music. Excuse this regrettable oddness while I post my Mixmania CD playlist as I have been urged to (finally) do.

Read More…Read More…

Sex songs

Lauren recently blogged on sad songs, and the comments section adds a lot more to the list (for the record, I think Nina Simone’s “Ooh Child” is about the most heartbreaking song I’ve ever heard).

So now, a new question: What is the best sex song? (And please, please do not say “Crash” by Dave Matthews Band. Please). My vote is for Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”

Sad Songs

Jeanne and Lynn have recently written about songs that make them cry.

Lynn and I are completely in agreement on this one: “Alone Again, Naturally,” a song that isn’t very compelling, cheesy if anything, but has a line that kills.

I remember I cried when my father died, never wishing to hide the tears.
At sixty-five years old, my mother, God rest her soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only man
She had ever loved had been taken.

Dismay is the worst emotion to witness.

The most recent song I have found that expresses this emotion is “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” by Sufjan Stevens (right click, save as). I had just downloaded a prerelease of this new CD and listened to it as I was planting my garden this spring. Elbow deep in peppers, I found myself weeping openly. There are several parts of this song that could go wrong, but it doesn’t. Pay attention to the one-line chorus and the last verse.

The CD with this song, “Illinois,” isn’t yet on the market, preorder it for release on July 5th. It is beautiful, Sufjan’s best work, and has an appeal for all kinds of music lovers. In the meantime see it’s sister CD, Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State.

If you don’t feel like listening to sad songs, watch this (via Amanda).

Summertime Downloads

In preparation for this summer’s Mixmania!, I’ve been compiling songs that scream summertime to yours truly. I envisioned my playlist as what would make me sing out loud without shame at a stoplight with the windows down. Summertime usually means that three major genres are represented in my CD player: reggae, rockabilly, and synth-pop dance music. Also cue David Bowie and the B52s.

As a charitable service, I thought it might be appreciated if I offered a preview. After all, no one can complain about free music, even if you hate it.

Notorious B.I.G. and Bone Thugs – Notorious Thugs
I genuinely hated rap until one long summer sitting out on a friend’s front lawn watching he and his buddies get drunk on PBR while whooping at people walking through campus. They forced me to listen to all sorts of hip hop, primarily hip hop from the mid- to late-90s, until I finally got it. After many years of resistance, I finally decided that, okay, I’m down as long as it isn’t too commerical.

I offered this song up for download before with some commentary on hip hop, gender, and sexism (this song has very little in comparison with the others in that post), and got this comment from Oshunluv:

How do I feel about them??? hip-hop classics! Bone-Thugs and Biggie was an Oakland classic Back in the day!

You heard it from her: classic. Unfortunately I can’t let myself listen to Bone Thugs out loud in public — they remain relegated to my headphones during walks to and from campus.

Dawn Penn – You Don’t Love Me
This slinky reggae classic gets my hips a-movin’ and head a-bobbin’. Nuff said.

The Dirtbombs – Underdog
This Detroit band is headed by Mick Collins, formerly of The Gories, and features his trademark growling, soulful voice. Detroit has been notable in the last few years for a fusion of garage rock, Motown soul, and punk rock with bands like White Stripes and the Von Bondies. The Dirtbombs are, in my opinion, a far superior choice if that’s a sound you like.

Of Montreal – The Party’s Crashing Us
And now for the synth-pop. This band is cute, but not too cute. Sweet but not saccharine. Of Montreal is thankfully missing the Angst Factor and they make my butt awkwardly move around in the driver’s seat.

Firewater – Mr. Cardiac
A slinky, sultry, cynical song with a female guest singer that furthers my delusion that somewhere deep inside of me is a singing voice fit for the public.

Reverend Horton Heat – Loco Gringos Like a Party (link fixed!)
I maintain that the Rev. is one of the greatest bands for driving long trips down sunny highways with your windows down. This song comes from Lucky 7, my favorite album since Holy Roller, a best-of compilation that unfortunately does not include the classic song “Nurture My Pig.”

Right click, save as, rename.

NOTE: I was looking at my stats to see how many people have downloaded songs and realized that the number 47 comes up every time I upload songs to the site. Forty-seven downloads or less. Is this the same forty-seven people downloading songs every time?

Tanya Stephens

Tanya Stephens has been referred to as “Jill Scott with dick jokes.” Some of her lyrics seem anti-man, some patently pro-woman, and some simply reflect the no-holds-barred stylings of female rappers we are used to in the U.S. What she does best is speak from a personal perspective on heterosexual relationships in which women feel unappreciated.

A listener unaccustomed to listening to Jamaican dancehall reggae (not crap American and British dancehall) will notice several things. First is the repetition of backing music. This isn’t sampling as we know it, but reflective of a producer-based music industry in which artists are vehicles for producer mixes, asartists are not tied down with music labels as in the States. This is changing as dancehall is becoming more of an international interest. The repetitious backing beats are labelled as riddims (rhythms for the painfully white) and are sometimes featured on full-length, ninety-minute CDs where artists lay vocals over them, resulting in ninety minutes of pure repetitive hell. I prefer them as singles rather than laid back-to-back in this manner. DJs, who remain closely tied with producers, often refuse to play new music unless they are highly compensated, reminding of the days of payola in early American rock ‘n roll.

The Jamaican music industry is almost unforgivably misogynistic in this regard. Artists who promote typical patriarchal ideals are highly rewarded, and so are the female artists that go along with it. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the patriarchal system prevails. One of my favorite reggae artists has been banned from the UK for promoting violence against gays and lesbians, even boasting: “I kill sodomites and queers, they bring AIDS and disease upon people.” The greatest shame is that he does so while promoting racial and spiritual unity.

Though the industry is changing, female artists are few and far between. Heavy hitters like Lady Saw and Tanya have been a staple for over a decade, and new artists like Ce’cile and Ms. Thing are up and coming superstars.

Tanya Stephens got quite a bit of flack for breaking from the producer-driven model and releasing an album through a Swedish label. Insiders accused her of selling out and abandoning her Jamaican heritage. Truthfully, the Swedish album is produced in a manner far more similar to American and European music. It sounds cleaner and her accent is less prevalent. But I speculate that the backlash came more from a sentiment she isn’t quiet about: “My goal on this record is to show my diversity not only as a singer but also as a songwriter and also to breakaway from the stereotypical female in Dancehall selling plain old cliche sex.”

If there is one thing about Tanya Stephens, the woman can chant. Some of the backing music is lacking in melody but I have included my favorites here for you. Right Click – Save As – Rename.

It’s a Pity (Doctor’s Darling Riddim)
This single came out shortly after Tanya’s three year stint in Sweden and was not well received by Jamaican critics. It’s a song about a woman lamenting her married beloved. She fantasizes what their life might be like should they actually be able to get together. The greatest strength in this song is the horn section, in part because it breaks from the usual riddim motifs.

Big Heavy Gals (Cuss Cuss Riddim)
This one has been featured before on Feministe in a slew of random songs. An anthem for “big heavy gals” who can still “get material,” it serves as a celebration of female sexuality in all bodily forms, and includes a few swipes at men who just don’t get it. This is one of my absolute favorite songs by Tanya.

Bounce Me (Medina Riddim)
A retrospective look at a failed relationship with a cheater.

What Makes a Gal Come
Self-explanatory — a few pointers for those who remain clueless.

All of the information in this post I have gleaned from various resources over the years. If there are any Caribbean readers who can confirm or deny anything I’ve said here, especially regarding the music industry, it would be appreciated. In addition, if any of these songs pique your interest, I have several more comparable female reggae artists I can feature. Drop a line and I’ll include them in a future download feature.