It’s been a few years since I’ve checked out the Oxford American’s annual music issue, but this year’s installment seems as good as any I’ve ever seen. There are a couple of lengthier pieces—Sean Wilentz on the making of Blonde on Blonde, Bill Wasik on the reality of online music marketing (with North Carolina indie rock band the Annuals as the test case)—but the bulk of the issue consists of shorter profiles and meditations on the 26 artists included on the accompanying CD, which is unusually strong. I'd never heard of Sandy Posey, Amy LaVere, Zakary Thaks, Teddy Grace, Parchman Prison Band, and Jon Bennett & the Sparkletones, but now I'm curious to hear more. Gems from lesser-known favorites of mine like the Clovers, Karen Dalton, Mayo Thompson, Iris DeMent, and Don Redman were great to hear in the context of what is ultimately a very cool mix. Who can argue with a compilation that follows Thelonious Monk with rapper David Banner and folkie Fred Neil?
The essays on the artists go well beyond boilerplate, and in some cases they appear to transcend previous scholarship. Chicagoan Aaron Cohen, an associate editor at Down Beat, contributed a piece on the great blues poet Percy Mayfield, while New Yorker editor Ben Greeman offers a revealing portrait of Eldridge Holmes. What the magazine does that no other music publication bothers with is examining music for what it can say about American history, painting a big picture rather than counting column inches.
LSB, Fungus (Moserobie)
Joanna Newsom & the Ys Street Band, E.P. (Drag City)
Aline de Lima, Arrebol (Naïve)
Synanthesia, s/t (Sunbeam)
Simon Nabatov Quartet, Nature Morte (Leo)