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The letter of the day is O

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O is for Oxford American. Oxford American is so generous! Once again, their music issue rocks, bluegrasses, harmonizes, gives you the blues, and for a first ... yodels. The 29-track CD frames the issue. Cut 20: the original "Piece of My Heart" Cut 6: Zora Neale Hurston, singing! Cut 27: a live, very alive Elvis Presley singing the hell out of "Suspicious Minds." Plus, you get Erykah Badu, Al Green, Ricky Scaggs, Joe Tex, Bessie Smith and close to two dozen more well-chosen musical gems.

My joy at reading the issue dates me. It reminds me of how much fun it was to get a new album, a vinyl album, and read the full-size liner notes on the jacket. The heft of it, a platter-full! The savory meat of OA is like those grand old album liner notes times 29! Each track gets star treatment, often with several first-person impressions.

Plus, I like the way editor/publisher Marc Smirnoff treats his contributors. The notes about that eclectic bunch are as interesting as the text they've written. You got the former guitarist of the Del Fuegos (now vice president of education at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame), rock writers (with books on the MC5 and the Beastie Boys due in the fall), and a room full of musician/writers and jazz singers from string bands and soft ball teams. Gangs of poets and novelists ensure the literary firepower matches the music. Well, almost. Isn't that the beauty of these award winning OA music issues? The music is the backbone, the driving wheel.

Local folks will notice Arthur Kempton, a visiting fellow at UNC, giving Aretha's big sister her dues, Durham's Lauren Wilcox with an epic piece on keeping up with Dale Hawkins, and Greensboro's Michael Parker going gaga over Johnny Winter.

O is for Opium Magazine.print. If you want literary humor for the deliriously captivated; go to opiummagazine.com. Looking for "a whopping collection of fanatical literary brilliance" Seek out their first print issue, 272 pages of expected irreverent, intellectual, in-city treatment of art, poetry, film, "tech," sports and way more. As they say, it's "sometimes funny, sometimes technically savvy, sometimes coldly ingenious." Launched last week at a lower Manhattan lounge, OpiumMagazine.print promises a lot of fun (check out the party photos on their Web site!). They have their sights set on folks who will end up publishing in McSweeney's and The New Yorker. Grab the premiere issue, make a table-of-contents staff checklist (54 contributors!), and wait a year. Wait a few more years and check the bestseller lists. You saw them first in OpiumMagazine.print.

We close with a great quote culled from last week's New York Times. From the business pages, a piece on bull market advertising blurted: Magazines are so hard to lift these days. That must mean September is coming.

Contributing writer John Valentine can be reached at ajcg@duke.edu.

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