Chances are you've never heard of Oxford American magazine ("the Southern Magazine of Good Writing," as it's called on the cover), but you have no doubt heard of John Grisham. Fabulously wealthy from his string of bestsellers, the Oxford, Mississippi, author started this publication, which has truly become a beacon of great writing. But once a year, it really shines. Every summer for the past five years, the magazine has published a music issue with a CD enclosed.
Now if you're the type to read liner notes carefully, this is right up your alley. The magazine -- all 200-plus pages of it -- is devoted to the songs on the CD. Each band and artist is discussed at great length, giving you a deeper connection to the 22 selections. This year's collection features Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and even Billy Bob Thornton delivering a surprisingly strong rendition of "Ring of Fire." The music is southern traditional, but not country -- it's more like the stuff on the O Brother Where Art Thou! soundtrack (which is written about in the issue, too) than Garth Brooks.
And the best stuff comes on those tracks from artists you've never heard of: The Gants of Mississippi have a neat little tune, "Little Boy Sad," from the mid-1960s, but without reading about them you'd never know they were going to be as big as the Beatles. You'll have to read all about it to find out what happened instead. Linda Lyndell's "What a Man" is a revelation -- look out Aretha! And contemporary artist Tricia Walker's "The Heart of Dixie" is a haunting prayer for racial harmony. All in all, this is great summer reading, er, listening.
You can purchase the Oxford American music issue at your local bookstore or by calling 800-269-6926.