It's the night after Christmas in 2017, and I'm sitting on my bed surrounded by a pile of old No Depression magazines. I pulled them down off the top shelf in my bedroom closet because I have a deadline looming for my weekly Broadside column and, since readership tends to dip low pretty during the holidays, I don't really want to invest all that much time into writing this week. What I really want to do is go into the kitchen to make a strawberry-coconut smoothie with almond milk, chia seeds, and protein powder, and them binge-watch season four of Shameless. So I'm leafing through issue #43 for quick inspiration, since it was published exactly 15 years ago.
The cover is still in good shape, the print on the pages hasn't faded all that much and the tagline under the name still sounds crisp: The New Favorite Alt. Country (Whatever That Is) Bimonthly. All uppercase. It cost $4.95 in the US and $7 in Canada, and there's a barcode in the lower left-hand corner that must have driven Grant Alden crazy each month since it was obvious he put a lot of work into the magazine's design and layout, choosing the photographs and typeface with obvious care and pride. Mark Montgomery provided the shots of Alison Krauss at the Ryman for both the cover and the feature story inside, which was written by Roy Kasten.
I'd forgotten how many ads there used to be. Kyla Fairchild handled that area (along with distribution) and tonight it's as if I'm sifting sand and finding ancient artifacts. Tower Records. Borders Books, Music and Cafe. Miles of Music. Binky Records. There are a lot of quarter-page ads for new albums from names long forgotten and in many cases, never known nor heard from again. There are full-page ads for that year's MerleFest and SXSW, and on the back cover is a beautiful color ad for Lucero's Tennessee on Madjack Records. Can't find a video of the band from that long ago, but this captures the vibe.
Peter Blackstock broke the news on a couple of marriages: Greg Brown and Iris DeMent, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. He gave a heads up on a number of new releases and reissues including Caitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell, Drive-By Truckers, Lucinda Williams, Jayhawks, the Minus 5 and Uncle Tupelo. He also wrote about the No Depression Alt-Country Radio Show – yes, there was such a thing – and the 14-member panel who voted on the Top 20 of 2002. I'm not going to give you the entire list, but Buddy Miller topped it with Midnight and Lonesome, followed by Mike Ireland and Holler, Caitlin Cary's solo album, Dixie Chicks, and Bobby Bare Jr.
While some of my favorite and frequently contributing journalists included Barry Mazor, Paul Cantin, and Don McLeese, it really strikes me as I go through the pages that there were literally dozens of contributors to each issue of the magazine. The number of reviews for both live concerts and recorded music was really staggering, and I can't think any other magazine that even came close. The feature stories and interviews always were always deep dives, and the music genres covered not only went far beyond the alt-country tagline, but also was highly diverse in comparison to today's insipid Americana playlists.
When Kyla took control of the website, one of the first things she embarked on was archiving each issue of No Depression into a searchable database. When she sold it and the lunatics took over the asylum, the web platform transfer brought the archives over in a non-formatted jumble of words, that are as difficult to discover as they are to read. Our new editor comes over from Paste magazine, and despite their penchant for endless lists as opposed to occasional music journalism (I did find Lee Zimmerman's The 10 Best Singing Drummers in Rock History quite interesting), they get high marks from me for bringing back to digital-life a number of articles from Crawdaddy!, one of the first rock music publications. So is there any chance that the No Depression archives can be repaired and given a new lease on life as well, or will they soon fade away? Time will tell, and in the meantime ...
You can follow me here at No Depression to get notified when I've added something new. Many of my past columns, articles and essays can be accessed at therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate and post daily on my Facebook page. The Real Easy Ed: Americana Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed