JOPLIN, Mo. —
With the passage of Labor Day, we’ve entered the fall season in spirit, if not in fact. The calendar says the fall season begins with the autumn equinox later this month, but considering we’re likely one generation away from an endless summer of scorched earth and heat death, I try to celebrate it as much as possible.
This is difficult, with my eyes swollen shut and my face burdened with 10 extra pounds of mucus thanks to a bumper crop of ragweed, but at least my ears are working.
Most weeks I tend to write about Top 40 pop music and new releases that fall under the broad rubric of “indie rock.”
While I enjoy that stuff immensely, it’s a small portion of what I listen to on my own time.
The fall tends to be when I zero in on a particular favorite, a category-less genre I consider “autumn listening” that tends to encompass folk, soul, country and pop. It’s mostly acoustic, but not exclusively, and mostly old, but not always.
Every year I make a mix of this personal genre that, for me, is like putting on a well-worn sweater.
Here are a few selections from the batch of songs I’ll be listening to this fall, which I’ll be adding to throughout the rest of the season.
Father John Misty: “Writing a Novel”
As far as fall albums go in 2012, there isn’t much better than former Fleet Foxes’ member J. Tillman’s “Fear Fun,” his latest solo folk album under his moniker Father John Misty. I was never a big Fleet Foxes fan, but Tillman’s jaunty, yet unhurried “Writing a Novel” is not only one of the standout tracks from “Fear Fun,” but also one of my favorite songs of the year.
Gene Clark: “With Tomorrow”
Clark co-wrote many of the Byrds’ best singles from the band’s early career, but left the popular classic rock band in 1966, right before my favorite stretch of the band’s career that culminated with “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” in 1968.
Clark went on to a great, if less-heralded, solo career, and in 1971 -- the same year the Byrds released the disappointing “Byrdmaniax” -- Clark released “White Light,” a reflective country album as stark and beautiful as the California desert, and a touchstone for the entire alt-country genre. “One in a Hundred,” perhaps the world’s only un-corny, intelligent song about relishing the present, is one of its many gems.
Jerry Jeff Walker: “Morning Song to Sally”
A friend turned me on to this song by underground country hero Jerry Jeff Walker. Most famous for writing “Mr. Bojangles,” Walker was part of the outlaw country movement that sprung up around Austin in the early ’70s.
One of his specialties is writing gut-punching sad songs. “Morning Song to Sally,” a folk ballad about a tantalizingly brief love affair, is one of them:
“For it seems our love was destined to be caught in other nets. But the love we held so brief, I’d chance again without regret.”
The Beach Boys: “Hold on Dear Brother”
I’ve written before about how the Beach Boys’ ’70s output is undervalued, and “Hold on Dear Brother” is one of the songs I offer up as proof. Even weirder, particularly for a band called the Beach Boys, is that it’s a country song -- the only one in the band’s career, aside from the abomination that is the ’90s patriotic cash-in “Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1,” where the band hired popular country artists to perform its old hits.
Featuring steel guitar and a soulful lead vocal by Blondie Chaplin, a South African who briefly joined the band in the early ’70s, the song points to alternate universe Beach Boys that’s every bit as stirring as the ones who dominated radio in the ’60s.
Thin Lizzy: “Wild One”
Some day I’ll write an entire column about the undervaluation of Thin Lizzy, a band written off as, at most, two-hit wonders (“Jailbreak” and “The Boys Are Back in Town”) and relegated to the backwaters of classic rock radio.
In truth, the multiracial band was more adventurous and groundbreaking than its present-day status would suggest.
“Wild One,” a cut from the band’s awesomely titled 1975 album “Fighting,” is a mid-tempo song built around a stabbing, melancholy guitar riff that splits the difference between soul and rock.
The song, like nearly all great soul songs, is about longing for someone, and while at first it seems to be about a lover, you eventually realize it’s most likely about a son or daughter who fell in with bad people and disappeared, making Phil Lynott’s cry of “there was no hope” all the more chilling.