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Soul, spirit and Southern lore

Cause to celebrate: With the heat of summer comes the fourth annual Oxford American Southern Music Issue and its accompanying free CD, Southern Sampler 2000.

Oxford American calls itself "the Southern magazine of good writing," and they're not fooling: this issue contains prose by such notables as Stanley Booth (Rythm Oil), Larry Brown (Fay), Ron Carlson (Hotel Eden), Peter Guralnick (Last Train to Memphis) and Cynthia Shearer (The Wonder Book of the Air), among others.

Novelist William Gay (The Long Home) offers "Sitting on Top of the World," a record of his visit to last year's MerleFest in the North Carolina mountains and a loving tribute to the South's greatest living picker, Doc Watson.

Essayist Hal Crowther shares his account of lunch with the inimitable Dolly Parton, and country singer/songwriter Marty Stuart contributes a striking black-and-white photo essay of industry artifacts titled "Hillbilly Heaven."

As usual, the choice of contributors to the CD (all of them profiled in the magazine) is eclectic and wide-ranging, and Nashville producer Rick Clark's mix flows one tune into the other with precision and grace. Among the album's best cuts are an early Ronnie Milsap soul tune that predates his rise to country music stardom; Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," a lush ballad from his character rich 1974 album Good Old Boys; Mose Allison's smooth, sexy "The Seventh Son"; and the as yet unreleased traditional spiritual, "Down in the River to Pray," recorded by Alison Krauss for the soundtrack to the upcoming Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Non-subscribers can find the OA Southern music edition and CD at Borders and Barnes & Noble stores ($8.50) until mid-September or until they're sold out. To order on-line and for subscription information, go to: www.oxfordamerican.com.

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