Notes on the songs from our 21st Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring South Carolina.
It is fitting that this Southern Music Issue (the Oxford American’s twenty-first) devoted to South Carolina should come in 2019, as the nation moves to better recognize the tragic anniversary of the first sale of enslaved Africans on American soil, in August of 1619. About forty percent of the enslaved people brought to America came through Charleston; today most African Americans have roots in the city (some estimates go as high as eighty percent). Or to put a finer point on it, as Joshunda Sanders writes in this issue, “No Black person has a family tree that has not been pruned by slavery.” Acknowledging, parsing, and reckoning with this history is the prominent theme of this South Carolina music issue—as is celebrating the immense wealth of cultural heritage that has sprung from this small, proud place.
“Bad Case of the Blues” shouldn’t be compelling, but it is—because of Martell, the way she guides, colors, and shades the song. She infuses it with the dissonance of self-knowledge, even as she takes her problems home to Mama in the country and deprecatingly calls herself “Miss Smarty.” The track shares a title with torch songs by greats Dinah Washington and Dusty Springfield and seems to warn of the perils of holding down-home values in the big city.