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Sunday Quarantunes: Ear Snacks for Sheltering in Place (20 Albums I Can’t Live Without Right Now)

Rock with me, people!

I hearby commemorate the grand opening of The Shawn Brown School for Wayward Youth by inviting each and everyone of you to join in on these Sunday shenanigans.

We will be meeting here online once a week on Sundays and your grades will be mostly based on your collection of vintage band t-shirts and mixtape Side 1/Track 1 selections.

The only other requirement is a healthy love of all things musically badass!

Welcome: I’m so glad you’re here and I cordially invite you to shamelessly…


As far as the issue at hand, I felt it was high time for a good old fashioned LIST edition. And hey, we all love a good list, don’t we? If nothing else, it presents a fabulous opportunity to either vigorously applaud or aggressively throw tomatoes at the witless list-makers themselves.

Some of you will curse my name and cast stones.

Some of you will exclaim: “Shawn, how could you leave off Trouble Will Find Me by The National?”

Me: “Easily! So incredibly easily…”

Imbibe accordingly, reject or applaud as your conscience dictates. Have at me, if you must. I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Plus…the heart wants, people. The heart wants…

Mind you, the following list is neither of the following:

  1. My Favorite Albums of All Time

  2. The Greatest Albums of All Time

It is in fact 20 Albums That I Can’t Live Without (right now).

This list appears in no particular order, so don’t even fucking start with me.

Bryan Adams – MTV Unplugged (1997): Oh yeah, you’re reading that right. Not only is this one in constant rotation, but I’ll raise you one and say that I’ll put this Unplugged up against any of the so-called “classic” Unpluggeds ever. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Neil Young, whatever…It’s THIS unplugged that takes the cake. Adams serves up all his lusty cuts with a generous celtic slant. It’s perfection. Still my favorite rendering of Summer of 69 on record. Jams for days!

Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991): The mightiest of the mighty. The great Soundgarden. Many point to this record as the sea-change in their skyward trajectory and I often disagree and simply say it’s their best, most accessible disc back to front full stop. This one is rarely ever out of my rotation, nor should it be out of yours…like ever.

Fink – Hard Believer (2014): Fink is the MAD NOTE, people! These Brits are from outer space, ya’ll. Part electronic, part folk, part melancholy, part joy. Genuinely moving stuff on all counts and this record in particular is the definition of a headphone album.

Squirrel Flower – I Was Born Swimming (2020): This astounding effort from Ella Williams is something of a marvel in its sparseness. Goosebump city! Streetlight Blues is by far the best song I’ve heard in months. I can’t escape this record, not that I want to. It’s just that the rest of my records are getting jealous.

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire (1984): While it’s probably not my favorite U2 record, I’ve been leaning on this one a lot lately. When push comes to shove, Bad is, and will always be, my favorite U2 cut, but it’s the sadness all over this record that really gets me. If it’s been a while, hit this one back up. It will help…

Patty Griffin – Living With Ghosts (1996): Rumor has it, Patty still thought of herself as a rocker while she was recording these “demos”. Little did she know, she was penning some of the most disarmingly impactful music in recorded history.

Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire (1996): While Rage was always positioned as protest music for the modern age, I’m not sure even they saw what nonsense we’d get ourselves into. Their reunion was announced and then canceled due to Covid-19, but fuck do we need them right now. This, their second studio record, gives you all the juice you need to get out there and change some things. Straight, unadulterated fire.

The Replacements – Don’t Tell a Soul (1989): Hands down, my favorite ‘Mats record by a mile. I know that may not sit well with many of you, but seriously, when was the last time you REALLY listened to this one all the way through? I guarantee it’s better than you remember.

Toad the Wet Sprocket – fear (1991): I always have time for Toad and so should you. Yes, fear has their biggest hits on it, but man oh man is this a sad record in all the best ways. Toad is a band that always suffered from being greatly mischaracterized and grossly underrated, likely due to their legendarily terrible band name. Still, they made incredible albums and this one puts me in my happy place faster than most.

Beastie Boys – Ill Communication (1994): The great Beasties always have at least one disc in my rotation at all times, with Ill Communication popping up most often. It’s still the perfect convergence between their silly frat boy personas giving way to their inner punk rockers. This one still feels as good as you remember.

Brad – Shame (1993): The late great Shawn Smith’s entire recorded catalogue will punch you in the face with a fist full of greatness. But it’s what he does with the other fellas in Brad that best encompasses his talents. I literally never leave home without this album loaded on my device. Spellbinding to say the very least.

John Mayer – Born and Raised (2012): I, like many, have a complicated relationship with Mr. Mayer. On one hand, he’s continued to show himself to be a transcendent talent (especially as a guitarist, the dude is terrifying). On the other hand, he seems genuinely incapable of getting out of his own way and his douche-y-ness is the stuff of legend. That said, Born and Raised constantly finds its way onto my turntable. It’s a magical Laurel Canyon-soaked triumph, containing some of Mayer’s most engaging songwriting ever. Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967 should not work as a song, but I can’t stop listening to it.

A Tribe Called Quest – The Anthology (1999): If you have any sense or taste about yourselves, this collection is often visited and pumped through your stereo systems. All your most essential Tribe cuts in one perfect place. Can’t go wrong here. Long live Phife Dawg!

The Sundays – Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (1990): Nothing more or less than a burst of sunlight through an otherwise smoggy, smoky reality. Take a quick time-out from the resistance with this one. Recharge those batteries and get back to work!

Marc Cohn – Marc Cohn (1991): One of the truly great debut albums known to mankind. It’s inexplicably good for your soul to spend time with this album. Hard to not get all the feels here. What a beautiful piece of magic.

Del Amitri – Change Everything (1992): It may not be the Dels’ best album nor is it even my favorite, but it’s still breathtaking to this day. The fucking album ends for literally 4 songs, I’ve never heard anything like it! You’ll see what I mean…

Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People (2015): While I might be a bit late to the Frank Turner folk-punker party, I plan to stay ALL NIGHT LONG. Cue up “The Next Storm” for a big ol’ burst of hope to the face. Exquisite stuff and it’s been occupying front position on my turntable for weeks now. Inescapably good.

Ben Harper – Fight For Your Mind (1995): While there are solid arguments to be made in favor of varying eras of Harper’s long recording career, I’m pretty partial to his first three records. Fight For Your Mind has always been my go-to record for the funkiest/angriest Ben and these days, that’s the one we need to hear from the most. Excuse Me, Mr?! Um…hell yes!

Needtobreathe – The Reckoning (2011): If you are not yet hip to these southern gents, get on it right quick in a hurry. This particular album hits the sweet spot between the roots rockers that they’ve become and the anthemic badasses that I always wanted them to be. These are the kinds of songs that you’ll be singing along with during your very first listen – yup, it’s just that catchy!

Counting Crows – August and Everything After (1993): Haters can hate, but no self respecting audiophile can do much more than stand and applaud for this behemoth.

Check please…

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