We both loved Gary Stewart, and we both loved Grace. My wife Grace’s father was a big man. He wasn’t much more than six feet tall, but I think folks thought of him as taller because he carried himself large.… by David Ramsey | Sep, 2017

A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel  Sing, Unburied, Sing. The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he… by Jesmyn Ward | Sep, 2017

Sketches of Tennessee. From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up… by Danielle Chapman | Sep, 2017

Traces of Cormac McCarthy’s Knoxville.  McCarthy’s books came to me as transformative things so often do: several-times borrowed. It was during my junior year of college, my first semester back home in Colorado after a failed track scholarship out of state.… by Noah Gallagher Shannon | Sep, 2017

An installment in Chris Offutt’s Omnivore column, Cooking with Chris.  Nothing is as powerful as the extraordinary jolt of a teenager’s first love. It’s like seeing the world after a double-cataract surgery. Life is suddenly exquisite. Each leaf becomes the bearer… by Chris Offutt | Sep, 2017

Take Sturgill Simpson. Sturgill (can I call you Sturgill?) is a Kentucky rascal, born in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. Jackson—population around twenty-one hundred. He comes from a family of coal miners. He was in the Navy. He worked… by Leesa Cross-Smith | Nov, 2017

A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.  Raised in Sandy Hook, Kentucky, Whitley grew up admiring country greats Lefty Frizzell and George Jones, whose vocal styles he imitated as a young musician. Whitley’s uncanny talent for mimicry is something of a… by Alex Taylor | Nov, 2017

A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.  Jim Ford’s lone album is a twenty-eight minute, mystical celebration of the kid that got away—a hazy, bourbon-and-cocaine-fueled-funk-&-soul-honky-tonk cousin to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. by Jesse Donaldson | Nov, 2017

Notes on the songs from our 19th Southern Music Issue CD featuring Kentucky. This faculty, to be attuned to one’s surroundings and the ways in which they’re unique, to be rooted in the local, to be of a certain place—no matter if… by Oxford American | Nov, 2017

March 07, 2017

A Points South essay from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues. 

The spirit of Southern outsider music has taken partial possession of many artists through the years—Charlie Feathers comes to mind, as do Link Wray, Hasil Adkins, and the train-obsessed 1920s banjo player Willard Hodgins. But as a fully realized manifestation—eccentricity expressed as bizarre and beautiful words and sounds—that spirit was at least thrice incarnate in the twentieth century: in the persons of Tennessee ballad singer Hamper McBee, Georgia banjo player Abner Jay, and Guitar Shorty of Elm City, North Carolina.

February 28, 2017

Ma Rene, my great-grandmother on Mama’s side, was a no-nonsense blueswoman. Wide-hipped, bowlegged, and solidly built, she stood barely five feet tall and had a wicked tongue. Her barbecue ribs—and the secret sauce she slow-simmered to go with them—made you want to hurt somebody.

March 01, 2017

Travels with Robert Palmer: photographs from the Delta. 

What became clear as we began our journey together, searching for the roots of the blues, was that the music is part of the Delta landscape and the people we encountered were carrying on an important tradition that spanned many decades. My goal was to visually depict their lives and their love of the musical tradition in which they lived.

February 21, 2017

No person living today knows exactly what an 1850s minstrel banjo sounded like; the music that was made on such instruments predates the invention of recorded sound. But we know that the banjo was brought to America by Africans, and that white players, including Thomas F. Briggs—author of the first banjo instruction book, an invaluable resource for historians and musicians—learned from black banjoists. When Giddens composes for or performs on her banjo, she channels both the history and the mystery of early American banjo music: what has been passed down as well as what has been lost.

February 16, 2017

“No one can tell you why Memphis is as magical as it really is,” said artist and washboard player Jimmy Crosthwait when I interviewed him for The Blues Society, my documentary film-in-progress about the Memphis Country Blues Festivals of the late 1960s. He wasn’t talking only about the magic of a beautiful sunset, a joint, and the sound of the blues, all of which were in profound profusion at the festivals. He was remembering something more elemental, what one of the organizers, the irrepressible Randall Lyon, called the eroico furore, or poetic fury: “It was beautiful to be involved with people who had this heroic enthusiasm for what they were doing.” The Memphis Country Blues Festivals, held yearly from 1966 to 1969, changed the way Memphians—and Americans—think about the blues, and they couldn’t have happened anywhere else.

February 16, 2017

Because the house on Durwood Road did not have air-conditioning and because three seasons in Little Rock seem to be mostly summer, Bob Palmer was practicing with his bedroom window open. He sucked on the reed of his Army Band Selmer saxophone and wondered if he might someday sound like Stan Getz on the albums his dad played. No, he’d never sound like Getz, but he didn’t have to. He just had to sound like what he sounded like, and he was still figuring out what that was. He had time. He was only in junior high. His little sister, Dorothy, said he sometimes sounded “like an elephant with its trunk caught in the door. Scree! Scree!” He didn’t mind the comment. It didn’t necessarily sound good, but what did “good” mean? It was sound. And sound was interesting.

February 15, 2017

Willie Mae Thornton was one of the crucial donors in the transfusion of black Southern blues into two separate veins of white rock & roll in America. Born in southern Alabama in 1926, she was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame the same year she died, in 1984. Although she could not read music, she was a respected colleague of Robert “Junior” Parker, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Clifton Chenier, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, B. B. King, Gatemouth Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Cotton—everybody who was anybluesbody. But Big Mama’s name comes up today mostly in discussions of two songs that tethered her to white rock & roll history.

February 14, 2017

To Adia Victoria, Donald Trump is just the latest thing in the history of American oppression.

“The blues to me is personal music. The blues to me is political. And what’s happening politically right now requires artists to get up, pay attention, report about what’s going on.”

February 07, 2017

Think of these women, coming out of the South and up to Milwaukee, arriving finally in tiny, all-white Grafton by either streetcar or automobile and feeling their way in a studio for the first time. As they fought the forces of shell-shocked alienation, disorientation, and possibly stage fright, the musical conversations between these two gifted artists created other worlds for them to fleetingly inhabit. Their duet yielded a recorded history of blueswomen’s subversive interstitial lives forged outside of both the jail cell and the sphere of domestic abuse, conditions which hovered close to each of them. 

February 10, 2017

Around two thousand years ago a woman died in Greek-speaking Asia Minor, near the ancient city of Aydin, in what is now Turkey. Her name was Euterpe, after the muse of music. Her husband or son, Seikilos—his relationship to Euterpe depends on how you read a gap in the dedication line—commissioned a stele, a stone memorial, which bore the following words, etched in Greek: “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”