To properly research and investigate nominations for every music issue we do, THE OXFORD AMERICAN relies on the expert counsel of musicians, record store clerks, record label owners, writers, bloggers, hobby archivists, and obsessive collectors across the globe. One resource we've particularly come to cherish and rely on is the UK-based website, Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven, which might possibly contain the most comprehensive archive of (primarily) obscure small-label Southern soul releases that exists anywhere on the planet today.
"Sir Shambling" is the sobriquet of British life-long record collector (and soul nut) named John Ridley. (Or Sir John for short.) This maven of American soul music has made "artist resurrection" his life's work—a crucial undertaking that allows music lovers to get a more accurate and nuanced portrait of great records—and American culture. (Have you all ever noticed how so many Brits seem much more knowledgeable about American pop music?)
After the invaluable influence of Sir Shambling's site on our past few Music Issues, we felt compelled to do two things:
1. Hire John Ridley (and associate Greg Burgess) to tell us why the fantastically music-rich state of Mississippi, while profoundly deep in almost every musical genre is counterintuitively not-so-deep in producing Soul musicians. Visit here for the stunning article on this matter....
2. To once and for all interview John Ridley on his life passion. See below for his engaging, surprising responses.
The annual Little Rock Film Festival is glorious, first and foremost, for the high number of cinematic surprises it provides. Even the most avid cinephile is unlikely to be familiar with the majority of the small and mid-sized movies being shown. But that's good! It's official: the programmers of the Little Rock Film Festival can be trusted. Our advice for next year is that you challenge yourself with the idea of watching as many movies as you can that you've never heard of. Do that, and you will leave the Festival punch-drunk with awe and new enthusiasms.
Six hours into my drive I hit the Missouri Ozarks and Doyle Redmond's (narrator of Woodrell's novel Give Us a Kiss) description of the landscape flared up in my mind. "Our region, the Ozarks, was all carved by water. When the ice age shifted, the world was nothing but a flood. The runoff through the ages since had slashed valleys and ravines and dark hollows through the mountains.... These mountains are among the oldest on the planet, worn down now to nubby, stubborn knobs. Ozark mountains seem to hunker instead of tower, and they are plenty rugged but without much of the majestic left in them."
In her latest book of poems, Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney navigates political grievances, family traditions, and memories of romance. Such varied themes are drawn together by her singular, glaringly honest voice and knack for examination—the public is made private, and, where necessary, vice versa. In "Left" she immortalizes the image of an abandoned Katrina victim holding a misspelled sign. "Cattails" is a love poem, except the speaker only recalls the wooer—not herself, the wooed. Poems like the title work wrestle with the human (and especially Southern) paradoxical impulse to both flee from and linger in one's hometown. The OA recently spoke to Finney about her preference for nontraditional mentoring, drawing the line in her activism, and rightfully becoming a long-winded poet. Fresh from a reading tour, she spoke with us from her home in Kentucky.
Matthew Pitt's 2009 collection, Attention Please Now,is flush with protagonists from places as varied as L.A., Paris, Milwaukee, and even a mysterious fictional island. They are middle-aged men, long-married women, surly teenagers, and newfound lesbians—yet each of their stories is distinct and painfully relatable. Pitt recently spoke to THE OA about telephoning married women, his Woody Allen impression, and his disdain for new media and how it plays into his forthcoming novel.
The pop-music world first encountered the atmospheric-electro creations of Chaz Bundick (aka Toro Y Moi) in late 2009, when "Blessa," a song that sounded like a summer daydream, surfaced on the Internet. It presented a kind of youthful sun-bleached pop music, but with a speculative edge. This wasn't an industry machine-generated twenty-something singing in falsetto about girls and heartbreak—this was a mysterious kid who seemed to have listened to his Michael Jackson with Brian Eno on the side. A sensitive kid, albeit an experimental one.
Just after the release of his predominately electronic debut album, Causers of This, Chaz decided to release an acoustic companion album, Underneath the Pine. Pine is delicately '80s-inspired, but with more traditional instrumentation, indy-rock dabbling, and careful lyricism.
Chaz Bundick grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the child of a Filipino mother and African-American father. He played in a punk band, and developed the alias Toro Y Moi at age fifteen. He studied graphic design at University of South Carolina and worked at developing his music career. When the power of web-based music media like Pitchfork established itself as an authority, Chaz took to the computer to promote his music. And in so doing, he inadvertently joined a genre of laptop-rockers bloggers like Carles of Hipster Runoff called, variously, "post-bloghause," "GazeWave," and even "conceptro" before settling on "chillwave." Carles sarcastically suggested that "It seems easiest to have a chill project, that is somewhat 'conceptual' but also demonstrates that [your] band has 'pop sensibilities' or something"-thus capturing "chillwave" in a nutshell.
With the release of Underneath the Pine just weeks away, Chaz recently spoke to THE OA about his musical influences, his relationship to the South, and what it's like to have an Internet-launched career.
A VILLAGE VOICEcritic once wrote that Candi Staton’s lovesick, country-inflected disco would have you “crying and dancing at the same time or you’re not human.” And it’s true: her past is all broken homes and broken marriages, and her voice has the cracks and imperfections to prove it. She was born in 1940 in rural Hanceville, Alabama, where she sang gospel in her teens even while her mama mocked her singing voice. She performed in a successful girl group called The Jewel Gospel Singers, and then went on the road to tour. In Nashville, she met and later married the musician Clarence Carter, known around his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, for his hit song “Patches” and his womanizing. Carter introduced Staton to Rick Hall of FAME Records, who would go on to put out some of her best discs—mulatto mixes of disco, country and r&b like “Too Hurt to Cry,” “I’m Just a Prisoner,” and a funky, bass-and-horn-heavy cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”
At the Little Rock Film Festival earlier this summer, we had the pleasure of meeting Sean Bridgers, Ffish, Shane Seley and Ed Leydecker, the creative powers behind the ambitious independent collaborative, ARKANSAS TRAVELER.
Sam Wainwright Douglas wears a burnt-orange beard about the size of Texas but even bigger is his accomplishment, CITIZEN ARCHITECT: SAMUEL MOCKBEE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE RURAL STUDIO, a documentary that transfixed us at this year's Little Rock Film Festival.
This weekend at the Little Rock Film Festival, talk of the Benton, Arkansas filmmaker Daniel Campbell's short film ANTIQUITIES was constant. A madcap mini-rom-com, ANTIQUITIES captures a day in the life of a hapless antique-mall clerk who is smitten with a charming dealer and struggling for a career breakthrough in the used-goods biz. Unfortunately, he is cosmically doomed by conversational gaffes and goofy hair.
Hailing from Sparkman, Arkansas, The Browns were one of the biggest crossover country groups from the 1960s. Under the tutelage and production of the legendary Chet Atkins, The Browns were known for their breathtaking, inextricable harmonies. As the story goes: Oldest sister Maxine, perhaps unwittingly, launched the family’s career by secretly entering her brother Jim Ed in a contest on Little Rock’s BARNYARD FROLIC radio show. After several years of hits, exhausting tour schedules, and family tragedies, Maxine settled in North Little Rock after The Browns disbanded.
Mark Spitzer—novelist, poet, Managing Editor of THE EXQUISITE CORPSE, and writing professor at the University of Central Arkansas (home of THE OA and THE EC)—is also a self-proclaimed “gar nut.” In his newly released book, SEASON OF THE GAR (published by University of Arkansas Press), Spitzer’s passions collide as he turns his pen on the object of his affection—the garfish, or what he terms “America’s most misunderstood fish.”