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

An interview with Les McCann from the Kentucky Music Issue.  All through high school the band teacher and I were very good friends. He received tickets to all the bands and brought me to concerts. I was in perfect heaven. I never… by Harmony Holiday | Nov, 2017

In 1966, Loretta Lynn was anything but little. She had already released eight solo studio albums. Just one year later she would be the first woman in country music to achieve a certified gold album for Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’… by Marianne Worthington | Nov, 2017

Bounding from one circle of attendees to another, dispensing heartfelt hugs and introducing himself and his Danish boyfriend to newcomers with the comportment of a Southern gentleman, was my friend Brandon Godman, a bearded, bearish hipster type whose jolly, grandfatherly… by Jewly Hight | Nov, 2017

Three poems from our Kentucky Music Issue.  Until the nameless traveler learns in terror His lidless eyes are open targets— Where sudden night flings in her quiet spear.    by Thomas Merton | Nov, 2017

A few seconds in, there came this sound. It filled the song and then it filled the room I was listening in. What was that? Like a fiercely shaken box of tacks. Like wind rattling dry leaves on a tree.… by John Jeremiah Sullivan | Nov, 2017

We celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary year by doing what we’ve always done: publish the groundbreaking fiction—three excerpts from Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award–winning novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing—essays, nonfiction, and poetry our readers have come to expect. Revisit or catch up on… by Oxford American | Dec, 2017

It was 1995, the year Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” was released, the end of my eighth-grade year, in rural Kentucky where homophobia was—and continues to be—rampant. My secret boyfriend and I—the one I had kissed in darkened classrooms after… by Jason Howard | Nov, 2017

The Old Regular Baptists and the joyful sound. The Old Regulars sing loud. “You can’t whisper it, it needs to have zip,” one told me. Another: “If you can’t shout down here, what are you gonna do when you get to… by David Ramsey | 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

Although the journey of this book is more fraught than a cloud forest, it is more magical, too. The games we play become the way the poems tell their stories, the way they love and grieve. These games help reader and poet get to know each other, while also introducing other urgent relationships between country and self, mother and son, the living and the dead.

In 1966, Loretta Lynn was anything but little. She had already released eight solo studio albums. Just one year later she would be the first woman in country music to achieve a certified gold album for Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind). But a “little girl singer” was not considered a true solo act. She was there to support and round out the male stars of a show. The “girl singer” moniker was used by her male colleagues and by emcees as a way to separate and diminish the achievements of women in the industry. 

The Old Regular Baptists and the joyful sound.

The Old Regulars sing loud. “You can’t whisper it, it needs to have zip,” one told me. Another: “If you can’t shout down here, what are you gonna do when you get to Heaven?” There is an orderliness to their singing, a formal quality—it has the shape and thrust of liturgy. But it is also indisputably wild.

In Myths of the Near Future Rob Stephenson considers the “Space Coast” of Florida after the closing of the Kennedy Space Center’s shuttle program. Interested both in documenting the very real economic struggles communities surrounding the Space Center have faced in the aftermath of the program’s end, and in exploring the “ambiguous realm between dream and reality, between past and future, nature and technology,” Stephenson’s photographs provide a portrait of a place suspended: “nostalgi[c] for the future as the promise of the Space Age slowly fades away.”

A girl was singing in one of the houses we passed. The sound rose up on the wind and out of the brownstone and out of the window down to us on the air. This girl behind that fluttering window curtain was an odd bird whose song I craved. I walked slow and deliberate to try and catch every note. I wanted to tell Glory to hush. This moment felt important to me, like I had just discovered some world for the first time, but Glory kept talking and kept walking. Knowing that I’d miss the end of that song, that I’d never know how it ended, made me want to cry. 

When I was growing up here in the 1980s, the larger world told us we had nothing to be proud of. As Eastern Kentuckians, we knew better. We had our people, our work ethic, and our land. And we had our internationally known musicians: Loretta Lynn, Tom T. Hall, Jean Ritchie, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam, many others. In our little corner of Southeastern Kentucky, we had the Phipps Family—lesser known but still a great source of pride for us.

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.

Stories of sin and salvation are plentiful in serpent handling communities, and over the years, I’ve heard dozens of tales of Signs Followers backsliding into different vices and leaving church, only to repent later and rejoin the congregation.

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 on the railroad and played music and sang, and his wife reassured him he was good and should keep doing it. Sturgill Simpson’s first album, High Top Mountain, was self-funded, self-released in 2013, and the first track is “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean.” In 2017, Sturgill’s first major-label album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, won the Grammy for Best Country Album and was nominated for Album of the Year while being largely ignored by country radio and the country music awards. 

An installment in our weekly series, The By and By. 

My greatest, greatest fear: to be a hobbyist, an artist on the side. I’ve prided myself on being a working artist for my entire adult life, as if it were the very backbone holding me upright. But the artist hustle written on my face isn’t working. 

In the Edisto, Mathias Hungler photographs one of the longest free-flowing blackwater rivers in North America, capturing some of the most enchanting points along the river’s “two hundred fifty meandering miles.”

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.

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 legend around Nashville—he could, upon request, conjure with eerie precision the voices of Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, and numerous others. He was, apparently, a man inhabited by an indwelling of spirits.