January 26, 2017

A story from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.

All day long the song has kept him thinking, a few clumsy lines scribbled on hotel stationery like black rivers rushing across the page. What imposters his words are. Music pays him to be. Music plays him to be. He sets the pen down on the table and tears off another chunk of hash. Having spent the better part of the day doing just this. See, the beautiful dried hashish in his hand. He puts it in the tall dazzling bong and lights it. Those sharing the table with him inside the café take turns, lips pressed against the long tilted rim of the pipe, then an intake of smoke, causing the bowl to start gurgling. Lazy smoke hovering about the room like gray birds. Four of them sitting at a round table with a mosaic top and heavy iron legs. His skull is filled with feathers, little sleep last night, but he swears that when he finishes this song, this moment will be in it. All of Tangier.

February 11, 2014

A writer's obsession with John Keats and the Beatles.

December 18, 2013

One Sunday night a month, around 8:30 P.M., or whenever the long, narrow, art-bedecked space of Canvas Lounge finally fills with revelers, the strains of “Let There Be Praise,” sung by Sandi Patty, the ’80s- and early ’90s-ruling inspirational star with two first names, come through the P.A. With the final perky, theatrical note still ringing in the air, the bar’s proprietor, playing the part of Pastor Peter in plaid polyester shorts hiked up to his ribcage and anchored there by a wide white belt, grabs a microphone from the deejay booth and introduces the Dickson Chicks: Marlene, Carlene, and Darlene.

October 02, 2014

I had less than a minute, and King was tired. He had no need to be messing around with someone like me, there was nothing I could give him, but he was gracious and I was grateful for the chance to shake his hand.

February 02, 2016

From the beginning of Sam & Dave’s career, Sam’s otherworldly high tenor overshadowed Dave’s low harmony, and for a variety of reasons—some personal, some practical, some musical—the history of the duo has been rewritten in the nearly thirty years since Prater’s death so as to diminish Dave’s contributions.

October 08, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue.

Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety belt. Or rather it has the shoulder belt, but the thing on the seat into which it is supposed to latch is missing. I noticed this awhile back, and it worried me for a few minutes. But then I thought, If you’re going to buy the farm it might as well be in a ’77 Coupe de Ville with John Prine.

January 14, 2019

A lyric essay supplement to our 2018 North Carolina Music Issue—plus H. C. McEntire covers Led Zeppelin.

God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.

Serve them all.

April 20, 2015

I don’t know when I first heard the music in my head. I don’t remember not hearing it. Sometimes in the morning it would be the first thing I heard, shutting out the sounds of reality—the traffic outside the window and the people moving around. My mother would sit at the upright piano, playing and singing song after song off old pieces of sheet music from her past. I searched these songs for meaning. Like the cowboy songs of Gene Autry and Red River Dave, each song told a story of a remote place and time.

September 20, 2019

An exclusive premiere from Rachel Grimes’s new album, The Way Forth.

During the emotional process of moving her parents into nursing homes some years back, Grimes and her brother became the executors of a scattershot archive of family photos, papers, and ephemera. The elisions and erasures of the past gathered poignantly in Grimes’s mind on the repeated drives along the Kentucky River between her farm and her father’s home. Rural Kentucky is endlessly evocative to Grimes, and the bucolic is a rhizome that threads throughout her work.

December 01, 2013
There is a remarkable story tucked halfway through Bessie, Chris Albertson’s biography of the blues singer Bessie Smith, in which Smith approaches a circle of robed North Carolina Klansmen, places one hand on her hip, and begins shaking the other in the air. She hollers obscenities at the men until “they finally turned and disappeared quietly into the darkness.” This is the sort of tale that stinks of apocrypha, but is nonetheless a useful encapsulation of Smith’s particular prowess: shouting darkness into darkness.