Monday, May 7, 2012

REPOST: The Oxford American Southern Sampler 1997 Music Compilation

It's hard to believe that The Oxford American has been doing their annual music issue for 15 years now because it seems like I bought the first installment from 1997 only yesterday.  For those already familiar with this magazine, you know how great these editions are since they include the usual top-notch writing in addition to a CD that showcases the music of artists with varying degrees of Southern roots.  In situations where I don't care for particular tracks, I still find myself reading the corresponding articles because they are typically enlightening even if the performances are not.


This anthology dates from the time when the music issue first began, back when the magazine was actually published in Oxford, Mississippi and they were still calling these collections Southern Samplers instead of Southern Music CDs.  As with other discs that would follow, this compilation is a decidedly mixed bag but includes enough quality material to make it an enjoyable overall listening experience.  Not surprisingly, the more recent stuff generally holds less interest for me, whether we're talking about what modern-day critics call Americana (e.g. Steve Forbert's "It Sure Was Better Back Then," Lucinda Williams's "Pineola," and Kate Campbell's "When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas"), neo-blues (e.g. Ted Hawkins's "The Good and the Bad" and Corey Harris's "Fish Ain't Bitin'"), country music of more recent vintage (Rosanne Cash's "Price of Temptation" and Blue Mountain's "Bloody 98"), a painful reminder of the unfortunate swing revival from the 1990s (in this case, the Squirrel Nut Zippers trying to sound old timey on "St. Louis Cemetery Blues"), or postmodern zydeco (in the form of "Good Times" by Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin').  Even so, selections such as these might be right up the alley for some of you readers - and if that's the case, more power to you.


Even though "Got It Made in the Shade," "Give Me Back My Job," and "I Take It on Home" might not respectively represent prime-period bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin and Sun Records veterans Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich, they still have much to recommend to them.  Gospel doesn't get much better than Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Nobdody's Fault but Mine," and the more recently-recorded instrumental "Matthew 7:7" by the Graceland McCollugh Tigers is moving in its own way as well.  Not surprisingly, the prewar blues tracks, Skip James's influential tour de force "I'm So Glad" and Charley Jordan's superb "Keep It Clean," qualify as my favorite items on this collection, while cult musician Jim Dickinson demonstrates why he was held in such high regard by the Rolling Stones and many others on "Down in Mississippi."  His steady producer's hand graces a fine piece of Memphis R&B, "Sho' Do," performed by Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Brothers.  Regarding the New Orleans funk nugget "Pungee," if you're not already acquainted with the Meters, don't come back here until you are.  On the other hand, I'll cut some slack for those not familiar with blackface minstrel Emmet Miller.  Granted, his voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but his interpretation of "St. Louis Blues" remains intriguing.  And finally, Phineas Newborn, Jr. demonstrates why he might be one of the most unfairly neglected jazz pianists in history on the ivory-tinkling workout "Abbers Song."


1. It Sure Was Better Back Then - Steve Forbert
2. Pineola - Lucinda Williams
3. Got It Made in the Shade - Jimmy Martin
4. Nobody's Fault but Mine - Sister Rosetta Tharpe
5. The Good and the Bad - Ted Hawkins
6. Give Me Back My Job - Carl Perkins
7. I'm So Glad - Skip James
8. Down in Mississippi - Jim Dickinson
9. When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas - Kate Campbell
10. I Take It on Home - Charlie Rich
11. St. Louis Cemetery Blues - Squirrel Nut Zippers
12. Fish Ain't Bitin' - Corey Harris
13. Pungee - The Meters
14. Sho' Do - Ollie Nightingale & the Hodges Bros.
15. Good Times - Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin'
16. St. Louis Blues - Emmett Miller
17. Abbers Song - Phineas Newborn, Jr.
18. Price of Temptation - Rosanne Cash
19. Bloody 98 - Blue Mountain
20. Keep It Clean - Charley Jordan
21. Matthew 7:7 - Graceland McCollough Tigers



  2. Thanks for this album, I've never seen it before.

  3. Worth a listen just to hear Kate Campbell's "When Panthers Roamed in Arkansas". Thanks.

  4. I've only recently become aware of this series, having bought the last three. Thanks for the chance to hear this much older one.

  5. Thanks for posting this. I only caught onto this amazing series with I guess #3 and though managed to get #2 later, have never come across #1.

  6. Are you still there? It's been a long time since this post and I guess many of us miss you...

  7. Hope all is well with you!
    No life sign for quite a long time ;-)

    1. Senor Puerco,

      Good to hear from you. I'm still alive, but I've been suffering from a prolonged case of blogging burnout in addition to being super-busy at work. Nevertheless, I am plotting my eventual comeback either here or somewhere else in the blogosphere. Watch this space.


  8. Any idea on where the 1997 Oxford American music CD can be purchased? I have 7 of the 16 and have never come across the first compilation.

    1. Regularly check listings on eBay, Amazon, and Discogs.

  9. dear Record Fiend, I needed to see the track listing for this CD and, lo, I found this posting. As the then-editor of the magazine and its co-compiler I have to say that your review shows good ears and fairness. Now that my own ears and musical passions have deepened I would completely do over this CD if I could; maybe keeping 10 tracks. The point of this CD was to show off the diversity of Southern music (it's not just blues! it's not just country!)--and to honor neglected masterpieces and souls. One small example (which you, with those good ears of yours, noticed) is Charley Jordan's "Keep It Clean." I grew up in the 1970s of Northern California, totally unexposed to the blues. So of course I prejudged the blues is irrelevant to me. But an interest in the Rolling Stones eventually led me to a Yazoo comp which had this Charley Jordan song on it. And though I would love deeper many other blues than this Jordan track (a novelty track but a SUBLIME and haunting one) I knew one day I had to share that song with others. One way or another. It opened a whole new world for me. I not only love how it sounds but its words: i love its playfulness and wit. Music doesn't always have to share dire themes, like heartbreak (so tired of hearing about that!)--to connect souls. C. Jordan's spirit connected, magically, to an unformed, foolish white fool from Marin County. And changed him for the better. That's one small, very personal (sorry!) example of the power and truth of music. I try as best I can to avoid going down memory lane: but you tricked me. Peace, and keep sharing your love of music please. We may not be able to chart how it does so but such love can affect us--strangers--for the better. PEACE, MAS