JOPLIN, Mo. —
Cardigan weather, am I right guys? The best. Apple cider, flannel shirts, nature walks, homecoming parades, hay rides, Oktoberfest beers, scary movies on TV, pumpkin-flavored everything -- I sure am going to miss it once our transition to a perpetual monoseason is complete and our only way to mark the passage of time is by what type of hell weather is shrieking outside our underground climate bunkers.
In the meantime, I intend to wring as much over-romanticized enjoyment from autumn as possible. A big part of that, for me, is fall music. While not necessarily a genre, per se, fall music has certain hallmarks: wistful, warm, reflective, primarily acoustic, never too caustic or angry.
1. Nick Drake: 'Pink Moon'
Nike Drake might as well be the patron saint of fall listening. Drake, who died at 26 when he overdosed on prescription antidepressants, made hushed folk music that sounds as natural as a breeze rustling the leaves on the ground or a beard growing on a gentle hippie. What tethers his music to the earth, preventing it from being too ethereal, is the deep current of melancholy that runs through it.
Further gentle-English-folk fall listening: Fairport Convention, "Liege and Lief."
2. Van Morrison: 'Astral Weeks'
Van Morrison gets a bad rap as "dad rock," but it's not exactly unwarranted. "Astral Weeks" does sound like a bunch of dads in Birkenstocks decamped to the woods to make jazzy flute music about their old crushes. (God, I would've hated this album as a teenager.)
But Morrison's poignant longing for some idealized past, and the music's rambling, autumnal amber glow makes it sound especially perfect this time of year. Also, album standout "Cyprus Avenue" features a lot of nice fall imagery.
Further fall listening for dads: Wilco, "Sky Blue Sky."
3. Neil Young: 'After the Gold Rush'
Young has two great albums with the word "Harvest" in them, both ideal for this time of year, but "After the Gold Rush" is a front-to-back masterpiece of Americana music written and performed by a Canadian. There isn't a better song to shuffle around the woods on an overcast fall day being melodramatically morose to than "Oh Lonesome Me."
Further proto-Americana fall listening: Townes Van Zandt, "High, Low and in Between."
4. Big Star: 'No.1 Record' and 'Radio City'
The progenitors of power pop wrote the ultimate fall song with "September Gurls," but their first two albums -- reissued as a single release -- are stacked with similarly potent distillations of teenage emotion. I never let the fall season pass without playing "Thirteen," "The Ballad of El Goodo," "Life Is White" or "I Feel in Love With a Girl."
Other power-pop fall listening: Chris Bell, "I Am the Cosmos" and Teenage Fanclub's "Grand Prix."
5. The Byrds: 'Sweetheart of the Radio'
Country rock pretty much began and peaked with "Sweetheart of the Radio." The Byrds, steered by their spirit guide Gram Parsons, offer a loping, slightly off-kilter version of country music that's as rich and warm as any pumpkin-spice latte you could possibly want.
Further country-rock fall listening: Sir Douglas Quintet, "The Mono Singles '68-'72" and The Blue Shadows, "On the Floor of Heaven."
6. Patsy Cline: '12 Greatest Hits'
Classic, old-school country always sounds good, but especially so on a fall night with a couple beers. This compilation of the timeless Patsy Cline's best songs is brief and beautiful, lacking a bum track and turning maudlinness into a virtue.
Further classic-country listening: The Louvin Brothers, "Country Love Ballads" and Faron Young, "This Is Faron Young!"
7. Bill Withers: 'Just As I Am'
All the great soul music from the '60s, particularly the Southern variety, sounds even better in the fall. Although "Just As I Am" came out in 1971, Withers captures the earthy, lived-in feeling of early soul, and combines it with the introspection of the man-and-his-guitar singer-songwriter style that emerged in the '70s. Also, "Ain't No Sunshine" is a perfect fall song.
Further soul fall listening: Don Covay, "Mercy!" and William Bell, "The Soul of a Bell."
8. Bob Dylan: 'Nashville Skyline'
I've always loved Dylan's country crooner phase, even its until-recently nadir, "Self-Portrait," redeemed this year with the release of volume 10 of Dylan's ongoing bootleg series, "Another Self Portrait," collecting a number of unreleased gems from this period. But "Nashville Skyline" remains the apotheosis of Dylan's singular take on countrypolitan, which smoothed-out his music's inscrutability -- a fall-music necessity -- and made him seem even weirder at the same time.
Further hipster country-folk fall listening: Father John Misty, "Fear Fun" and Beck, "Sea Change."
9. R.E.M.: 'Murmur'
The definitive college rock album rolled folk, jangle pop, post-punk and Southern mythology into something new that also sounds fantastic around a campfire.
Further alternative fall listening: Nirvana, "MTV Unplugged in New York."
10. The Shins: 'Oh, Inverted World'
Unfairly associated with an insipid movie, "Oh, Inverted World" sounds like happy pop songs drifting to you on a cool breeze from somewhere far away so that by the time they hit you they sound irrevocably altered -- sadder and more mysterious. I can't believe it came out 12 years ago, but lamenting the passage of time is classic fall behavior.
Further indie-rock fall listening: The Fresh and Onlys, "Long Slow Dance" and Cass McCombs, "Big Wheel and Others."