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Sounds of the New South 

Music you oughta know

For last year's Southeastern Music Issue, we asked you to follow us on a musical travelogue across the region. This year's special issue concerns an internal sonic journey -- introspective travel through time and the doors of perception, if you will. As the New South continues to grow upward (see the rising skylines) and outward (suburban sprawl replacing Dixie's hallowed pastoral landscape), the music and culture are also in flux. Still, as diverse populations explode and musical micro-genres spread like kudzu, the rich, complex core of the Southern Thang holds fast.

Tethering ourselves to tradition, the music writers of Creative Loafing and Weekly Planet (our sister papers) tripped the rift between old-timey genres still hanging tough in the new millennium (like the string band repertoire of N.C. master fiddler Joe Thompson) and Southeastern sounds so new as to lack concrete definition (such as the "tropical funk" scene bubbling under in Miami). We ventured well off the interstates to the side roads in search of Southern music you oughta know 'bout -- especially if it has yet to arrive at the mall or been codified to death by Starbucks. The sacred-steel tradition that spawned Robert Randolph may be more familiar now, due to the pedal-steel guitar player's Bonnaroo-enshrined success. But are you aware of the late Otha Turner and his granddaughter Sharde Thomas' preservation of the distinct, north Mississippi hill country fife and drum tradition?

To be sure, the American South is celebrated internationally for our indelible contributions to world culture. Yet with success comes a calcifying process, a certain inertia takes over. In the arena of music, this has led in the past to the iconic Delta bluesman being worshipped while relative modernists, such as Memphis cult favorite Big Star, were overlooked. So we decided to do the heavy lifting on behalf of historical record and ferret out tomorrow's Southland music trends today. Our "Bands to Watch" list delivers a guide to the region's next big things, spanning from Charlotte-based rock group the Sammies to New Orleans electro-hybrid wizards Mute Math. And the festival roundup offers ample opportunities to see some of the region's finest acts live.

The South's still got our own thang, even in these days of globalization. The ghosts of the Old South loom large in the American mind, the Academy and the Borders bookshelf alike, but the New South's mavericks are jumping hurdles over genre tags such as snap music, screamo and swamp-hop. The array of artistry in our 2006 Southeastern Music Issue announces to the world: "If you don't know, you betta ask somebody!"

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