Our Southern Rivers

By Silas House and Jason Kyle Howard

Issue 111, Winter 2020

November 10, 2020

Illustration by Three Ring Studio

As Southerners we have a particular connection to our rivers and the creeks that feed them. In Southern music, water is often presented as both savior and villain, and we know its power. Our Southern rivers have defined us in remarkable ways—offering places of salvation to drop a line and laze on the bank while we wait for a fish to bite, cleansing spaces of baptism, portals to freedom—and in sinister forms of rising floods, crumbling levees, and passages to enslavement. In creating this playlist, we have consciously avoided a quartet of masterpieces that should show up on a larger comprehensive list: Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” Ike and Tina Turner’s cover of “Proud Mary,” and John Prine’s “Paradise,” although we could not resist including one of the most famous of all, Louis Armstrong’s recording of “Moon River.” What we have offered instead are songs by some of our favorite artists that are more personal to us, that fit together sonically and thematically—waters we return to again and again for solace and renewal.

Silas House and Jason Kyle Howard

Silas House is the nationally best-selling author of six novels, including Southernmost, which was published in June 2018. He is a frequent contributor to the Atlantic.

Jason Kyle Howard is the author of A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music and coauthor of Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Nation, the Millions, and Utne Reader, as well as on NPR. He directs the creative writing program at Berea College and serves on the faculty of Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing.