Falling Leaves... and Tears: 40 Autumn Albums

The problem with writing about an autumn playlist is obvious: it's written. Not played in the car while taking Friday afternoon off for a long wet-highway drive to figure out why you feel all lonesome. The other problem, of course, is that fall isn't a time for decisions and lists. It's a time for adjusting to new time and light.

We could catch up on songs while working outside but we wouldn't end up hearing much anyway. Steel tine raking leaves and our headphone cord keeps getting tugged out of our ears.

But years pass and a playlist develops. When we are baking snickerdoodles in a plaid robe. Caught off guard by our own enjoyment of Bob Seger's cigarette scorched road-hoarse Against The Wind. Just then we find sugar dough hardened on the edge of our sleeve. 

Oh I know that strum. Unknown Legend drops me to the floor every time. And I hear old Neil is living in a teepee with Daryl Hannah these days. 'She used to work in a diner, Never saw a woman look finer, I used to order just to watch her float across the floor.'

It's a slow walk to the mailbox kicking stones harmonica on a front porch and the last of the hot sun afternoon ice tea to foreheads. A cornfield wind is a wire brush on a snare drum. Willa Cather is hiding in the leaf pile again, I just know it: Nebraska field notes, wagon miles, and dustbowl days.

Did I tell you the truck didn't start again this morning? And it gets dark so early now. By the way the geese are headed south.

Not many people showed up for tonight's bonfire. The kids are in school—last minute costumes, ya know—but let's do this again sometime. Before roasting turkey sweats the windows. Before snow jams up 94 to Chicago. Before the phones don't work both ways.

Across genres and eras, 40 albums to hunker down with as autumn's weeping lap steel slides us towards winter.


Kathleen Edwards - Voyageur   Break-ups, called-off weddings, booze, Canada. This one's for that long stretch of highway back to mom's house. She'll make you some nice soup. Listen: Pink Champagne

The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World  Colin Meloy will make you realize you don't know as much as you thought you did. But that's okay, you have all winter to smarten up with the books. Listen: Calvary Captain, The Wrong Year

Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams  I threw a dart and it landed on this one, but does it really matter which Ryan Adams/Cardinals/Whiskeytown album you listen to in October? Listen: Gimme Something Good, Tired of Giving Up

Mindy Smith - One Moment More  She'll have you feeling grateful and hopeful, but you'll have to cry first. Plus, Dolly Parton's here so show respect. Listen: Falling, It's Amazing, Jolene

Harry Chapin - Greatest Stories Live  This incredible force of peace sure knew a thing about savoring the story of a moment. It's not lost on me that I've picked two songs sung by his brothers Tom and Steve but they are glorious: Saturday Morning, Let Time Go Lightly

Lucy Kaplansky - Ten Year Night  Let me guess, the year flew by because you were working too hard? At what cost success? Lucy will have you making resolutions. Listen: End of The Day

Nanci Griffith - Late Night Grande Hotel  I love her goddamn guts and she needs no further explanation. Listen: Late Night Grande Hotel, Hometown Streets

Two Dollar Pistols - Hands Up!  Might I suggest lighting a nice wood fire and smashing your bottle of whiskey in it? Listen: Too Bad That You're Gone, It Doesn't Matter Much To Me

The Bittersweets - The Life You Always Wanted  Suppose they kinda said it all with their name. Listen: Long Day, Shooting Out The Sky

Dwight Yoakam - Last Chance For A Thousand Years  This man can do no wrong. (And you better watch him in Sling Blade or he'll put the hurt on you.) Listen: You're The One, Ain't That Lonely Yet

Richard Shindell - Reunion Hill  This is what warm apple cider and cake doughnuts sound like.  Listen: The Next Best Western

Dar Williams - The Green World  I'm at a loss for words to describe the beauty of this album, but not for lack of wearing a chunky scarf while trying. Listen: And a God Descended, Spring Street

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix  It was Fall 2009 and we were in Portland and we ate waffle things at food trucks and never seemed to mind that it was raining.  Listen: 1901 and Fences

Leigh Nash - Blue On Blue  Don't you ever just want something nice? The title says blue and it just happens to be the blue of puppy dog eyes under a warm blanket while watching Love Actually for the hunr'th time: Listen: My Idea of Heaven, Never Finish

George Strait - Strait Out of the Box  If you're driving across country and George isn't in your truck you're just begging for an ass kicking at the next Flying J. The only problem with this expansive box set is that it doesn't include I'd Just As Soon Go, so you'l have to buy the Clear Blue Sky album as well. Scrape the early November frost off your windshield and listen to Amarillo By Morning and You Look So Good In Love

Son Volt - Trace  Name any list- this album is on it. Listen: Windfall

Alison Krauss - Forget About It  Just get it over with and curl up in a ball before you press play. Alison is a roots music goddess and she'll break your blessed heart... in the nicest possible way. Listen: Forget About It, It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (songs written by Robert Lee Castleman and Todd Rundgren)

Bob Seger - Greatest Hits  When I was a dishwasher at my first job the mean-ass-bourbon-pickled restaurant owner played this album every single night at closing time. Seger... too many wedding receptions and not enough respect. Listen: Against The Wind

The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall   Between the last falling leaves and the dusting of first snow there is a moment when you step out into the yard with your steaming mug of coffee and marvel at how sometimes everything can be so damn beautiful, and difficult, and perfect. Listen: Clouds, Settled Down Like Rain

Tears For Fears - Everybody Loves A Happy Ending  TFF has existed in a strange space. Monumental radio success without nearly enough recognition for the genius of their total musical canon. In a distant future scientists will devote copious study to Roland Orzabal's densely tangled noggin and freakishly limber vocal cords. Listen: Sizes of Sorrow and Secret World

Lionel Ritchie - Tuskegee  The moment when Willie Nelson comes in on Easy is the moment when you smash your mama's best set of china against the wall because nothing will ever be as good as this moment so why even bother trying anymore. And I don't even have to tell you about the glorious harmony with Darius Rucker on Stuck On You

Shriekback - Big Night Music  Imagine spying through a forest of trees upon a mystical midnight jam session of a secret society. They know something we don't. Listen: The Shining Path, Underwaterboys

PM Dawn - The Best of PM Dawn  The iTunes version of this album is missing Set Adrift On Memory Bliss and Amazon doesn't have the album for download. What the hell is wrong with this world? So if you can get your hands on the CD, do. RIP Attrell Cordes. Listen: Being So Not For You, I'd Die Without You

Diana Krall - Live In Paris  The DVD version really threw me for a loop. Turned me straight, then back to gay, then had me crying in the arms of Elvis Costello. Listen: Maybe You'll Be There, A Case Of You

Sade - Bring Me Home Live 2011  The only thing rivaling the sexual confusion sparked by Diana Krall is the stage presence of Sade Adu. Skip the album, watch the Bring Me Home Live concert DVD, and you'll know what it means to be reduced to helpless mound of blubbering oatmeal.  Listen: In Another Time

Oingo Boingo - Dark At The End Of The Tunnel  Their second to last album of original material was said to be a move toward more mature themes and a darker sound. But of course all of their albums were about death, sex, and xylophones. I think Danny would want you to listen while carving a gruesome pumpkin. Listen: Skin, Is This

Dan Fogelberg - High Country Snows  Pure. Sweet. Kind.  Listen: The Higher You Climb

Eric Johnson - Ah Via Musicom  "Seems to me we really need to feel love more, Oh, an ordinary smile opens the door. Sometimes all I want to do is dream away.... And wake up in some forty mile town"  Listen: TrademarkForty Mile Town

Gordon Lightfoot - Dream Street Rose How am I supposed to choose between this and Summertime Dream and every other album this icon ever recorded?  Listen: If You Need Me, Dream Street Rose, Ghosts of Cape Horn

Iain Matthews - Walking A Changing Line  Thirty years ago this album was recorded during a hot Los Angeles summer and released the following year by Windham Hill. A genre-defying concept album put to the words of Jules Shear, it evokes skeletal trees blown bare of leaves. No surprise considering Windham Hill's masterfully curated legacy of seasonally evocative artists. Listen: Standing Still, Alive Alone

Mandy Barnett - Mandy Barnett  In 1996 country music suffered a great injustice: Mandy Barnett released an album that would have made Patsy Cline cry, yet it wasn't awarded 'Best Album Of The Goddamn Decade'. Maybe it's more of a winter album, but it deserves a spot on every list forever. Listen: every single song

Screaming Trees - Sweet Oblivion  When autumn comes around and you're feelin' torn like an old dollar bill. Listen: Dollar Bill

Big Head Todd & The Monsters - Sister Sweetly  Bittersweet is all-season apropos, but perhaps more so so if you're hanging your arm out the window of an old Chevy driving down a dusty road to a cabin on the lake in late September

Neil Young - Harvest Moon  A 'harvest moon' is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox. It's also the time of year when you heed that primal ache for Such a Woman and Unknown Legend

10,000 Maniacs - Our Time In Eden  Natalie Merchant's blood must pulse with an ancestral knowing that the building blocks of America are as soul crushing as they are revered. Evident in the manifest-destiny of westward wives in Gold Rush Brides

Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt  Where there's a list there's a Pearl Jam. Listen: Sleeping By Myself, Sirens

Golden Smog - Weird Tales  It's like a sneaky way of adding another Jayhawks album. Or an apology for not including Uncle Tupelo or Wilco. Listen: To Call My Own, Looking Forward To Seeing You

Justin Townes Earle - Kids In The Street  This must be what it's like to stand alone on a Memphis street corner on a windy gray October Sunday afternoon with a guitar strapped across your back and no particular place to go. Listen: Maybe A Moment, Kids In The Street

Rufus Wainwright - Poses  Listen to Poses and imagine sitting on a park bench watching colored leaves fall onto a pond in Central Park or Echo Park. Wait, there are no autumn leaves in Echo Park. Whatever, forget the leaves and just stare at his brooding hotness on the cover art.

Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky  Every Knopfler solo album could fill this spot. Pick one, press play, and pay attention to the texture in his voice and the wisdom in his fingers.  Listen: So Far From The Clyde


[Album #41? Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Who Built The Moon?  As of this writing only one track has been released and it's immediately good. Duh. Pre-order for Nov 24 release.]

If you're on the east coast and want a catch live show steeped in autumn sounds, check out the reunion of Cry, Cry, Cry. Members Dar Williams, Lucy Kaplansky, and Richard Shindell all showed up on my 40 Fall Favorites list and have a few more upcoming shows. To my great sadness, they aren't coming to the west coast.

They didn't pay me to plug their shows, but if they want to throw some cash my way, I can be had.

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