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'Oxford American' Takes On The Sounds Of Contemporary Kentucky

Sturgill Simpson, seen performing at the 2017 Grammys, is one of the featured artists in <em>Oxford American</em>'s Southern music issue about Kentucky.
Christopher Polk
Getty Images
Sturgill Simpson, seen performing at the 2017 Grammys, is one of the featured artists in Oxford American's Southern music issue about Kentucky.

Images of Kentucky are often reduced to coal miners, bourbon, horse-racing and Loretta Lynn. This year, Oxford American magazine has dedicated its annual music issue entirely to Kentucky, and it explores soul jazz, punk rock, rap and more from the Bluegrass State.

The issue comes with a CD of Kentucky music, new and old. Jackson, Ky. native Sturgill Simpson graces this year's Music Issue cover, showcasing the contemporary sound of the state.

"We were really floored not just by the history of the music but by the vibrancy of contemporary scene, so we knew we kind of of wanted to find someone for the cover who would convey the dual nature of the themes of this issue," Oxford Americandeputy editor Maxwell George tells Weekend Edition guest host Lauren Frayer.

<em>Oxford American</em>'s Kentucky Music issue is available now.
/ Oxford American
Oxford American
Oxford American's Kentucky Music issue is available now.

The intersection of old and new is evident in the spectrum of Kentucky artists highlighted. The CD includes recordings from Simpson, Matt Duncan, Dave Evans, Loretta Lynn, the Legendary Shack Shakers, Pine Mountain Girls' Octet and more.

"Kentucky is unique in a way that it's not sure whether it's Southern or Midwestern," says musician and contributor Nathan Salsburg. "Kentucky itself was this interesting crossroads of river traffic, the frontier of the Appalachian Mountains that Daniel Boone blazed. There [are] all these intersecting and competing factors. In the cities themselves, a lot of this music cross-pollinated."

"Kentucky was one of the original frontiers of America," George adds. "It remains in that spirit today. And we can hear it in the contemporary music coming out of Kentucky, too."

Hear the full conversation, including George and Salsburg's explanations behind several songs included on the CD, at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 1, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous Web version of this story misstated the name of Oxford American's deputy editor. He is Maxwell George, not George Maxwell.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
Ned Wharton is a senior producer and music director for Weekend Edition.