From its debut in 1995 as a 32-page quarterly magazine to its zenith ten years later as a 180-page bimonthly, No Depression magazine grew from humble beginnings. It became the most prominent publication covering American roots music, starting from the point where country combined with rock 'n' roll and tracing the common bonds through genres that include bluegrass, folk, blues, gospel, soul, jazz, indie, Cajun, conjunto, and beyond. Along the way, No Depression grew to be acknowledged as one of the finest music magazines ever published, often compared to the 1960s origins of Rolling Stone or the 1970s heyday of Creem, receiving awards from the Utne Reader, ASCAP, and the International Country Music Conference, and cited by the Chicago Tribune in 2004 as one of the nation's Top 20 magazines in any category.
In early 2008, No Depression announced that its May-June issue, ND #75, would be its finale as a bimonthly magazine. To ward off the disappearance of No Depression in print, the University of Texas Press stepped into the vacuum, arranging for a new semiannual ND "bookazine" to be published each fall and spring. The first installment—to be called No Depression #76, reflecting continuity with the magazine's history—will be issued this fall and will carry on the publication's tradition of outstanding long-form writing about major and influential American roots musicians, along with quality photographs and other elements all presented via the graphic design imprint of ND art director Grant Alden. This book/magazine hybrid is essentially groundbreaking territory in both of those publishing worlds.
Sharing the editorial vision for the bookazine will be Alden and Peter Blackstock, co-founders of No Depression and its co-editors from the beginning. Many of the senior editors and contributing editors who helped shape the voice and tone of the magazine will contribute to the bookazine, which will feature entirely new content in every issue: Unlike ND's previous project with UT Press (2005's The Best Of No Depression: Writing about American Music), these will not be anthologies of previously published works, but rather entirely fresh creations every six months. If you loved No Depression magazine, this is where it lives on, in print.
Samantha Crain by Mark Guarino
Bowerbirds by David Menconi
Sarah Jarosz by David Baxter
Sierra Hull by Silas House
Homemade Jamz Blues Band by Edd Hurt
Basia Bulat by Peter Blackstock
Gary Clark Jr. by Michael Hoinski
A Portfolio of Photos from our esteemed photographers
Infamous Stringdusters by Jewly Hight
Crooked Still by Lloyd Sachs
Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet by Barry Mazor
Ben Sollee by Barry Mazor
Carrie Rodriguez by Don McLeese
Dunks by Roy Kasten
Hanson by David Cantwell
Younger Than That Now an essay by Paul Conlin
Appendix: Reviews: Mark Olson & Gary Louris; Rodney Crowell; Emmylou Harris; Glen Campbell; Mudcrutch; John Mellencamp; Al Green; Irma Thomas; Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis; Ray LaMontagne; Ry Cooder.
As it turned out, the angels who interceded to preserve No Depression—responding to the publishers' note in the penultimate March-April 2008 edition of our magazine—were mostly well-known to us. Some who responded were rank strangers; all were generous and kind, as have been our friends, readers, and families.
But we should not have been surprised to find that the two key players in what No Depression will become arose from our small circle of friends. ND has always been first and foremost a community of cantankerous companions, joined together by an abiding fondness for extraordinary music, regardless of its commercial success.
Dave Hamrick, who had shepherded our tenth-anniversary compilation of articles through publication at the University of Texas Press (formally, The Best Of No Depression: Writing About American Music, and still for sale at better bookstores everywhere), spent long hours typing and thinking and talking to us about various solutions. We all ended up with the curious project you now hold: A bookazine.
A bookazine. This is one of those fusion things one reads about and maybe sees on the shelves, but what—exactly—such a thing is, we confess not to know. Nor to care, not really. Yes, there are models for this hybrid kind of magazine in book form, and we looked at several of them. But they weren't what we are, or had been, or wanted to become, and the form seems hardly settled into any one particular notion. And so we ignored the ready models and plunged blindly forward.
Same way we started a magazine, thirteen years back.
As with the first years of the magazine, we sought to start this new venture simply (though, happily, with much higher production values!). It is our hope to play more loosely with the format of our new bookazine venture as we—and you—become more accustomed to its strengths and limitations.
We began, however, with certain clear understandings: In the age of the internet, some kinds of more time-sensitive content were ill-suited to a semi-annual publication. Which is where our second angel stepped forward. You know her, a bit, we hope, for Kyla Fairchild has been managing the circulation and advertising sales and many of the business affairs of No Depression almost since it began. On extremely short notice she has pulled together a team of experts to rebuild the No Depression website (that is: NoDepression.com), to adapt it to the ever-changing possibilities afforded by instant and interactive communication.
Which means that our live reviews will appear online rather than in these pages, as will the vast majority of record reviews. Old habits die hard, and so you'll find an appendix of sorts in this volume reviewing albums of particular prominence within our purview that were released during this edition's broader time-window. The website will offer other enticements, as well—including nearly all the contents of our 75 back-issues—and is set to relaunch at roughly the same time this first bookazine appears.
As for this first bookazine, then ... one of the ideas around which we began to focus this debut (or re-debut) was that its chapters should, however loosely, be tied to a particular theme. What grew from this general notion was an edition addressing the "re-generation" of the roots community. To a fair extent, the cover story of our March-April 2008 issue—a collective overview of the changes that were swirling around an impressive community of young string bands—served as a sort of blueprint for much of this inaugural bookazine.
Many of the bands discussed in that piece—including Crooked Still, the Duhks and the Infamous Stringdusters—were in the midst of lineup changes when the issue was printed, but had not yet sprung forth with the music which sprouted from those transitions. Over the summer months, each of them released new albums, and so the bookazine offered an opportunity to revisit those acts in-depth.
Another prime-subject of the string-band piece, Uncle Earl banjoist Abigail Washburn, teamed with Béla Fleck, Casey Driessen and Ben Sollee to release the first full-length disc under the name the Sparrow Quartet in May; in August, they traveled to Beijing to perform their ambitious musical melding of American and Chinese cultures at the Summer Olympics. We saw fit to make them the subject of our first cover, perhaps especially appropriate in that longtime banjo master Fleck is in some ways bridging the gap from one string generation to the next.
The rest of the content more or less followed suit, with one notable exception: Yes, that Hanson. Our longtime senior editor David Cantwell had been badgering us to write at length about the formerly chart-topping teenpop trio for some time now (he'd reviewed their 2007 disc The Walk in our bimonthly pages), and it occurred to us that they brought something unique to this youth-focused issue. While all three brothers are still in their 20s, they're also well-worn veterans of both the art and commerce of making music. They offered a perspective no other act in these pages could; and, besides, as Cantwell so deftly argues in 5,000-odd words here, their brand of bubblegum power-pop is directly connected to the early roots of rock 'n' roll, as are the more traditionalist genres toward which we've generally gravitated in these pages.
Ah yes—these pages. They're still here, aren't they? It's good to have them back, and, more to the point, it's good to have you back as well. Stick around and we'll figure out exactly what we can do with a bookazine. Whatever that is.
Grant Alden Peter Blackstock
Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock (along with Kyla Fairchild) founded No Depression in 1995 in Seattle, Washington, and have been its editors ever since.