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A 23-cut, 72-minute CD with 208 pages of glossy, storified liner notes, The Oxford American's fourth annual double issue of Southern music is upon us once again. This one's the best yet.

And these are the highest class liner notes you've ever seen. Why, the "slowest" part of the whole issue is the chapter by none other than the Elvis of bestseller lit, John Grisham himself. Every interview and biography delivers up a gem. Larry Brown writes about hanging out in Austin with Alejandro Escovedo and his chickens. (Somehow, OA got Escovedo to donate an advance cut, "Castanets," off his new CD for the compilation, with Mitch Easter on lead guitar.) Another North Carolinian, Holly George-Warren gets a great, honest interview with Petty ("Bobby Rydell and Bobby Vee kick Backstreet Boys' ass all day long."). Meanwhile, Rick Cornell captures true "rockstar" angst and ambivalence in his piece on Knoxville's Jeff Heiskell and the Judybats.

The first cut on the CD is from Doc Watson, a Sugar Hill recording. The Durham label also contributes Dolly Parton's track, and, among other North Carolina connections, the accompanying written text reveals Hal Crowther casually discussing dining with Parton. Snow Camp's David Nelson's also in magazine, as is Washington, N.C.'s Sam Stephenson. And surely Michael McFee thought he had gone to rock 'n' lit heaven when, in the space of a few days, Steve Earle complimented him at a Nashville reading and OA editor Marc Smirnoff gave him a full page for his poem "Solo." Most people "play" air guitar. McFee went out and made his.

Four years ago in the first special double issue on Southern music, Frye Gaillard wrote about the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and their cut ignited the compilation. This summer's house party collection will simmer for the next few months until we're all barking mad, positive we've heard the next big thing.

More by John Valentine

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