19 Songs Ya Gotta Hear: An Early April Playlist

It's April 2nd, snow is falling outside, and the Boston Red Sox sit atop the American League East with a record of 3-1. Sounds about right. It's time for a playlist.

The other day a friend asked me how I listed to music: do I listen to albums or just collections of songs? With digital options like Spotify, listening to a string of individual songs is easier than ever. I've favored that approach recently. When I was a kid, I'd check out CD's from the Wallingford Public Library- the available mediums at that point demanded that albums were heard. That's how I came to love Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, and Radiohead's Kid A. I wonder if my appreciation for the statement that music makes would be the same without these listening experiences.  Currently, with Apple Music, Spoify, or whatever, there's an overwhelming amount of songs at one's disposal. It's the age of the playlist. And disparate songs can fit together. Here's some for April:

1. "Morning" by Beck, from Morning Phase
Kin to the beautiful song "All Things Must Pass" by George Harrison, Beck channels the melancholy acoustic-based music from his album Sea Change, but this time it's tinged with a bit of sunlight and realistic hope that the morning represents. "It's morning" he sings, and "I've lost all my defenses". A new start.

2. "Thirty" by The Weather Station, from Thirty
The Weather Station emerged out of the Ontario folk scene, and is fronted by troubadour Tamara Lindeman. This song follows a steady path, detailing family history over a steady, sensible, and groovy collection of acoustic guitars paired with electric leads and a full band. For a folk band, this song could've torn right through a rock show in the the 1970s.

3. "Independence Day" by Elliott Smith, from XO
"Independence Day" greets with a melancholy smile- future butterflies still in their cocoon-with a steady finger picked acoustic and sunshine-woozy keys that cast a angular shadow over the proceedings.

4. "Bum Bum Bum" by Cass McCombs, from Mangy Love
McCombs composes songs that have angles, sharp edges that lose their sting as a chorus of playful and melodic guitar parts bleed into the whole. His pieces are a joy to listen too for their sense of melody and quiet, jumpy energy.

5. "Both Hands" by David Bazan, from Blanco
"Both Hands" zooms in on relationship troubles, with the chorus, "both hands over my eyes", indicating either willful ignorance or a state of deep emotional dismay. Swirling electronic keys and synthesized bass pack this one with a punch. Truth comes out one way or another, sooner or later. . .as the singer understands that he "can't sweat what mystery hides".

6. "Rising Red Lung" by Wilco, from The Whole Love
Here, the rising red lung serves as a metaphor for our voice in this world. It may pop. Snow will fall. Things can change. Spring comes. It's all expertly delivered by the poet Jeff Tweedy over a bed of acoustic guitars and stark atmospheres flushes.

7. "All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands" By Sufjan Stevens, from Seven Swans
Sufjan busts out the banjo and asks some real questions: "If I am alive this time next year/ will I have arrived in time to share?". This song is explicitly religious, as Sufjan sets the tone for a new journey into integration with the spirit of Christ. Ultimately, it's about letting something larger, deeper, and more meaningful that our own selfish desires take over and bend our will towards the light.

8. "Campaigner" by Neil Young, from Hitchhiker
This song is prime 1970's Neil Young, as he hammers down on the acoustic and documents personal and societal malaise. The guitar sounds like it's a piece of sparking metal hitting the road. Uncle Neil's high pitched rocking chair voice works through the song. As always, it's delivered with grace.

9. " Asshole" by Beck, from One Foot in the Grave
Beck's old-school acoustic stuff is junk- and handy junk at that. In the folk tradition, Woody Guthrie is the working class spirit, Bob Dylan is the master, and Beck is the backyard analyst, too lazy to wake up for work. The song certainly fits into it's own world.

10. "Everybody's Talkin" by Harry Nilsson, from Aerial Ballet
The bright acoustic melody that greets us sets the tone for this wistful 70's tune, as Harry Nelson celebrates the inner world of the individual. Sometimes ya gotta go and do your own thing.

11. "Could We" by Cat Power, from The Boyhood Soundtrack
A tight band, some fun horns, and a groovy picture complete this song by Cat Power. This is a song that says "yes" to life, as it grooves along with you while walkin' through the park. It's time to go.

12. "Lonely Avenue" by Ray Charles, from Yes Indeed!
Ray Charles can sing those slow piano blues like nobody else. His sense of timing in the song is flawless. The drums follow the piano. The background singers build off Ray. He's the rock here, and he sings with power. Even if you're living on lonely avenue, this slow, blues and jazz inspired tune from Ray not only showcases his genius but will leave your foot tappin' along.

13. "The Coffee Song" by Frank Sinatra, from The Columbia Years
Old blue eyes usually sang about love, but he also sang about agricultural economies, the availability of consumer products, and international trade deals. Heck, this might be an economists favorite song. It's all jazzed up, with the big band- and it's playful. They put coffee in the coffee in Brazil.

14. "Trouble in Mind" by Richie Havens, from Preservation Hall Jazz Blues
Richie Havens always sings from the heart. While usually paired with his trademark acoustic ramblin', here, Havens slows it down and delivers a woozy, nighttime song with grace and ease. The sky is dark blue, and the spring winds blow, as Havens travels the often challenging roads of life with a sense of disappointed but determined spirit.

15. "Buckets of Rain" by Bob Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks
"Buckets of Rain" showcases Bob Dylan's raw guitar talent. The closer to, lets face it, his best album packs in Bobby's sharp songwriting and penchant for imagery and hard hits on the acoustic that'll just about hurt your fingers. "Buckets" paints a picture, even if that picture is sitting on the floor on a rainy night. This one moves through worlds unknown, a trip through the past, a firm commitment to others in tow. (note: this song was not on YouTube, so the video features John Mayer covering the song).

16. "April 14th Part 1" by Gillian Welch, from Time (The Revelator)
A great folk singer, an ode to old Abe Lincoln, the Titanic, the independent music business, and the trail of tears. On many levels, this song nails you right on the head. It's more about the goings that the comings. Welch's voice works well with her trusted acoustic, as lead guitarist David Rawlings lines everything up with his tasteful lead licks.

17. "Cycle" by Beck, from Morning Phase
"Cycle" is a short string-based filler on Beck's album Morning Phase. It made sense here.

18. "Virginia" by David Bazan, from Strange Negotiations
Bazan at his best: his voice clear and upfront, a few simple chords, and an exploration of death, youth, and the afterlife.

19. "Avril 14" by Aphex Twin, from Drukqs
A piano tune that stands tall in it's simplicity, saying more with a few chords that words ever could.

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