Then there’s the stripe of love-sickness where you’re not even sure it’s hurting. The pain often masquerades as energy, even optimism, yet there is always, in Johnson’s phrasing—in the way she hesitates against the beat—the hint of denial and delusion, and the suggestion, in those seconds where her voice rises and cracks, of trouble ahead. It might let you sleep, but it will be with you first thing, and stay with you all day.
A liner note essay from our South Carolina Music Issue
We all know that Southern music needs to be heard and celebrated. However, visibility (exposure) cannot be pitted against our chance at a healthy life. The Oxford American’s ask of under-resourced Southern musicians to donate their song licenses is exploitative, and must end.
I have written hundreds of songs over the years. And of those hundreds, there are ten or twelve I call my lifesavers. It’s like, if I hadn’t written that particular song in that particular space and time, I would have died some sort of spiritual death. “Guitar Song” is one of them.
“Resurrection,” the first song on A Water Album, facilitates a kind of reconciliation between the Fitzgerald Wiggins of my youth and the man I aim to be. Seeing others come in contact with this music has been a staggeringly beautiful experience, with a profound, if unintended, result: apparently, I’ve empowered members of my community to chart their own pathways to redemption.
A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive liner note.
For some twenty-five years I’ve maintained an obsession with four specific seconds in all the history of rock & roll. Four seconds of a single guitar ripping a hot lick, the opening salvo to a rock & roll song from 1969, a song I don’t particularly love (it’s not my typical go-to music), played by a band I almost never listen to (no disrespect intended). But these scant seconds thrill my ear, lift my spirit, and send me back to my own guitar with renewed enthusiasm, and they capture the singular virtuosity of Steve Ferguson—a great musician from Louisville you’ve likely never heard, which I consider truly unfortunate, because boy is he ever worth the hearing.
A Kentucky Music Issue web-exclusive: a conversation with director Vic Rawlings.
“Lee Sexton is a living master with four tracks on Mountain Music of Kentucky, a beautiful Smithsonian Folkways record from 1960. It remains a favorite record of mine—has been since I first heard it in the mid-nineties. I went to a few places mentioned in the liner notes when I made my first trip to Eastern Kentucky in 2004. My first stop was Roscoe Holcomb’s grave; it turns out he and Lee are cousins. After that, hoping to find Lee, I asked where Linefork was, and I was directed to drive along a two-lane road. I expected to find a small town or a store somewhere along there and planned to ask again about Lee. There was no town center, not even a gas station, and I spent most of the day searching.”