What makes the South, the South? Most modern Americans would say football and grits sprinkled with a bit of country music and NASCAR.
These clichés hold true for many Southerners today, but what made the South before the commercialization of the American economy was a commitment to land, family, and God. It was both a temporal and a spiritual understanding of the value of community and tradition, of self-determination and independence, of the relationship between God, man, and the environment.
These were not always uniquely Southern traits, but like most of what made America, the South held on to them longer and with greater zeal than any other part of the United States. Perhaps it was defeat and dislocation that solidified the need for deep roots, for tangible heroes and subtle pleasures. Time moved with the rhythm of nature, slow and plodding. Southerners had time to think, reflect, and pray under the hot sun and long growing seasons. They lived in the dirt. They communed with the dead and wept for the living. They were patient. They had a reflective acceptance of the present, knowing that for many tradition served as a reminder of better times. They knew that death was a journey with God.
This pain made great music. It still does.
The recently released Southern Family captures this spirit. From tears for the living, laughs and lessons at “mama’s table” or from daddy’s guidance, and spiritual paths to “the way home,” the album is a reflection of the traditional South. Several prominent country stars lend their talents to the collection of ballads and blues, including Jamey Johnson, Zac Brown, John Paul White (of The Civil Wars), and Miranda Lambert. Also in the lineup are Shooter Jennings (Waylon’s son), Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, Morgane Stapleton (Chris Stapleton’s wife), Brandy Clark, Jason Isabell, Holly Williams (Hank Jr.’s daughter), Brent Cobb, and Anderson East.
There are no bubble gum tunes about a “party down South” that pollute modern airwaves. These are real songs from the heart, of home and place. They sing the listener home. That alone is worth the price of the record.
Miranda Lambert, “Sweet By and By”
Jamey Johnson, “Mama’s Table”
Zac Brown, “Grandma’s Garden”
Jason Isabell, “God Is A Working Man”
Morgane Stapleton, “You Are My Sunshine” (my favorite tune on the album)
Shooter Jennings, “Can You Come Over”
Brent Cobb, “Down Home”
John Paul White, “Simple Song”
Brandy Clark, “I Cried”
Holly Williams, “Settle Down”
Anderson East, “Learning”
Rich Robinson, “The Way Home”