By John Adamian
2:24 PM EST, December 5, 2012
Every year when the venerable Oxford American releases its annual music issue -- and its accompanying CD -- I’m blown away by the scope of the project, the deep research, the top-notch writing, the curatorial genius, the style and sense of the layout. It’s probably the best stocking stuffer for any music fan on your list. (Some have compared it to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for music obsessives.) It’s the magazine I most look forward to getting each year.
The 2012 issue, just out now, is devoted to the music of Louisiana. A few years back, instead of just having a general Southern Music issue, the magazine started zeroing in on a specific state, which makes total sense, especially to southerners. (Last year they did Mississippi, and Alabama before that.) Though coastal dwellers sometimes flatten the whole region into one lump -- the South -- the differences between Tennessee, say, and Georgia or Texas are huge.
In the New York Times this week book critic Dwight Garner rightly extolled the OA, its music issues and the astounding compilation CDs that come with those issues. He said the OA was like the New Yorker with hot sauce and a tub of Duke’s mayo, which sounds about right.
This one’s no different. Only it is, a little. Louisiana is a special place. And what’s true of the south as a whole, is true too of Louisiana in microcosm. Shreveport and New Orleans and Lafayette are their own places, with their own cultures -- food, music, accents, etc. As anyone who’s watched the HBO show Treme knows, music permeates the place in a way unlike few others.
Professor Longhair is on the cover of this one -- fittingly. As the capsule write-up on Fess puts it, “his trademark rhumba-blues shuffle, with its flourishing arpeggios and driving bass lines, was the stuff of legend.” Check out that left hand on “Tipitina”! -- they should send that record to outer space for higher life forms to digest.
You have to feel for whoever had to decide on whether or not to include something on Ed Blackwell, Leadbelly, Slim Harpo, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lucinda Williams or Mahalia Jackson.
The disc contains the deep droning blues of Robert Pete Williams, worth spending some time with if you have a taste for raw blues. And the excerpt from Dickie Landry’s “Fifteen Saxophones” is a revelation -- with its long, solemn, church-like washes. Many students of Anthony Braxton, Arvo Part and Philip Glass will find it inspirational. As usual, there’s plenty to discover, even for the biggest crate-digging, file-hoarding, Mojo-reading music nerd you know.
It’s true, for some of us, there may appear to be a little squeezebox fatigue associated with a disc of Louisiana music, but some of the tracks on this sampler, like the staggering, churning polyrhythmic funk of Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas (it sounds like Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” transposed to an accordion) will force you to rethink any preconceptions you’ve got about music from the Bayou.
The OA has a new editor, Roger D. Hodge -- there was a bit of a scandal involving the old one, allegations of improprieties with interns. It’s likely that Hodge joined the team while production of this issue was already under way, but it’s living up to the high standard, with writing by Stanley Crouch and Amanda Petrusich and poems by Yusef Komenyakaa. Hodge says he wants to add more journalism to the mix at the OA. I can’t wait to see what he pulls off.
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