The Oxford American, the “Southern magazine of good writing,” has released its 11th annual music issue, “True Soul & Other True Sounds.” Like last year’s issue featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, the songs of Zion loom large in the autobiographies of the featured artists. This year’s magazine comes with two free CDs of Southern music. One consists entirely of musicians and music connected with the great state of Arkansas, including Sister Ernestine Washington, a daughter of the sanctified church who moved in the same circles as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Natural State recordings are a fitting companion to Robert Cochran’s wonderful book, Our Own Sweet Sounds: A Celebration of Popular Music in Arkansas.
The Jubilee Humming Birds are among the gospel acts profiled in this issue. Reflecting on the Birds’ recording of “Will the Lord Be with Me,” journalist Warwick Sabin writes: “The South may be the ultimate Old Testament playground, where everyone is in awe of a God who is capricious, unpredictable, generous, and cruel. Majestic and subtle physical beauty is everywhere, from the coastlines to the mountains to the Delta plains. Amid these gorgeous surroundings are poverty and deprivation, racial and religious conflict, and other manifestations of man’s sinful nature. There is tremendous success and wealth, met in equal measure by frequent natural disaster and tragedy. And as a salve to it all, the South is blessed to indulge daily in the simple but profound pleasures of food and music that both express and embody extreme joy, pain, pathos, and comfort. In an environment such as this, there is always hope, and there is always doubt. Which is why it is always appropriate to wonder, ‘Will the Lord be with me?’”