My favorite things Alabama

1. Popular music.  Emmylou Harris is from Birmingham and I like her albums with Gram Parsons.  "The New Soft Shoe" is an excellent song.  While I appreciate Nat King Cole in the abstract I never choose to put it on.  Lionel Richie has a nice voice but the sound is too bland for my taste.

2. Painter: The early Howard Finster is excellent, although he churned out weak material for a long time later on.

3. Jazz: Lionel Hampton is the obvious choice, but I will pick Sun Ra, who is a musical god of sorts for me.  Jazz in Silhouette is the best place to start, although it does not communicate the overall diversity of his work.  He remains an underrated musical figure.

4. Country music: Hank Williams.  Even if you hate country music you should buy the two CDs of his collected works.  I also love Shelby Lynne; start with I am Shelby Lynne.

5. Bluegrass: The Louvin Brothers.  Tragic Songs of Life is one of my favorite albums as it has a deeply scary and tragic feel; again you can love it even if you hate country and bluegrass.  Do you know the song "The Great Atomic Power"?

6. Writer: I can't make my way through To Kill a Mockingbird.  Who else is there?  Wasn't one of Charles Barkley's books funny?  I've never finished a Tobias Wolff novel, too stilted.  Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King were very good writers, though they don't quite fit the category.  Same for James Agee.  Truman Capote would be an easy pick except I don't enjoy his books.  Zora Neale Hurston was born in the state though I am inclined to classify her under "Florida."

7. Quilters: From Gee's Bend, Alabama, there is an entire tradition.  The traveling exhibits of these works are excellent.

8. Gospel: Blind Boys of Alabama.  They transfer better to disc than do a lot of gospel groups.

9. Song, about: Don't go there.

10. Movie, shot inClose Encounters of the Third Kind.  As for "Movie, set in" here is a worrying list.  Maybe I'll go with Fried Green Tomatoes, although the book is supposed to be better and more open about the sexuality of the main characters.

The bottom line: There are some major stars here and I haven't even mentioned the famous athletes.


what's your favorite ex-investment bank from alabama?

Writer: What about Ace Atkins?

Tyler, anyone who can get through Paul Samuelson (let alone other econ writers who are worse writers) and says he can't get through "To Kill A Mockingbird" either 1) isn't trying, at all, or 2) is making a rhetorical point that seems pretty weak. It's an important and worthwhile book. Give it another shot.

My Cousin Vinny is set in Alabama and is quite entertaining.

If you like Emmylou Harris and Shelby Lynne, you must like Shelby's sister, Allison Moorer, right? I mean, right?

Also, the Drive-by Truckers are simply amazing. (In a show of Alabama solidarity, they had Allison open on one of their tours. Here is a joke they told: What's the difference between a tornado and a redhead from Alabama? Absolutely nothing, they'll both take your trailer eventually.)

second that on drive by truckers.

I've never finished a Tobias Wolff novel either, but the short stories and non-fiction memoirs he's most noted for are superb.

Sorry Steve but I quite enjoy this part of marginal revolution. You see, I saw a Sun Ra exhibit at a modern museum in the Bowery weeks back. I couldnt remember his name for the life of me, until Tyler brought him up. Now, Im listening to the opening track off jazz in silhouette on youtube.

Tyler should make these "state culture" posts into a book. I know Id read it.

Jazz in Silhouette is fantastic, but you should move on and get SPACE IS THE PLACE.

What about some Alabama food?

Also, check out Uncle Tupelo's version of "Great Atomic Power."

I just don't understand all the "sexuality" stuff. Sure, maybe it's interesting for people who think people from Alabama are repressed, or whatever. But, I'd bet they just keep it in doors and are probably gettin' their groove on while people are discussing the latest Lars von Trier film at the coffee house.

When I think of Close Encounters of the Third Kind I think of Devils Tower, not Alabama.

I also don't get how some things become uncool just because they get popular.

Wikipedia: "Buffett spent part of his childhood in Mobile, Alabama.[1] As a boy in grade school, he attended St. Ignatius School. He later lived in Fairhope, Alabama, considered by Buffett his "Home Town" during a 2001 concert."

Singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett (1946- ) spent his early formative years in Mobile, Alabama, and briefly attended Auburn University. His childhood experiences growing up on Alabama's Gulf Coast helped shape his world view and the persistent themes in his artistic output.

Emmylou Harris has a great version of "Jolene" that was broadcast on NPR a few years ago, just when people were starting to recognize her name.
The circus scenes in the movie Big Fish were filmed in Alabama (on my friend's cousin's farm).
I lived in Alabama for 10 years (Birmingham), so I'm kind of partial.

In fact, Steve Young would be a good choice in the "Musician from..." category.

On the point of these State lists - at least Tyler's lists are fun to read and maybe help educate and inspire others to share their point of reference. Hell, Sufjan Stevens is making (trying...) an album themed on every state, and the hipsters love him - talk about pointless.

Also, concur on the Drive-By Truckers!! They write acoustic whirlwhind pov songs on early 20th century forbidden love affairs and also AC/DC none crushing non-sense rock about.

Plus much like MR, their shows have some of the most friendly vibes among the southern rock non-jam band crowd, and I'd imagine the political/cultural differences of said crowd are pretty diverse as well...

Speaking of Muscle Shoals, Dan Penn would also be a great pick in the Pop Music category, and Sam Phillips (the Sun Records mastermind, not the singer) is also from Alabama.

@MPO: You miss my point. I am not snobbishly bleating that Tyler is not giving Mockingbird its due respect, or suggesting I think the book is "reallllly important." (Though on reflection I clearly is--the book is read by virtually every HS freshman in the U.S. as a moral parable; whether you love the book or would criticize it, it is certainly not unimportant.)

My complaint is, Tyler has said something that is against the grain of popular opinion, and I want to know why he thinks that way, not just the fact that he thinks that way. I seek his insights, not his nonconformist platitudes.

I agree: Why can't you finish "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

Tom Franklin is a good writer from Alabama. Read "Hell at the Breech."

Bob Montgomery,

Don't overlook Frank Lary. I was going to mention Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, but Wikipedia tells me he was really from Mississippi.

Don Mincher (Huntsville) wouldn't be a bad pinch-hitter, though that team is going to score plenty of runs regardless.


Tyler's arbitrary classifications aren't any worse than yours. Indeed, they're far less unsavory and biliously ignorant.

Steve, why do you bother reading MR if you aren't interested? It really isn't required of you...

For myself, I really appreciate Tyler's cultural comments (even though like others I do find it better when he elaborates, but this is a blog, after all...). There's been more than a few times when I've looked someone/something up when he's mentioned it and found it fascinating. That's a purpose in and of its self.


Kerry James Marshall
Verne Dawson
Bill Traylor (TC might like his work)
Scott Burton
William Christenberry

Country Artist: Jamey Johnson (from Montgomery)
Relatively new, but worth a listen. If it's possible to be both retro and modern, he's done it. Best thing to hit country music in 30 years.

Martin Luther King?

Alabama author Howell Vines, "A River Goes with Heaven" and "This Green Thicket world,"published 1930's. Authentically Alabama.

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