Ah, the fourth quarter. It isn’t as much of an event as it used to be, but even as the music industry crumbles to dust before our very eyes, artists and labels continue to focus on the last few months of the year for the biggest glut of high-profile releases on the calendar, and 2008 is no exception.

Rather than punishing your eyes with a comprehensive fall music preview, or soliciting input from everyone on the staff, I decided to put together a list of the titles I’m either looking forward to (Lindsey Buckingham, Brian Wilson), need to hear to satisfy some dark, unexplained urge (Gym Class Heroes, Queen), or simply find interesting for some reason (Todd Rundgren, AC/DC). If you’ve been waiting for someone to tell you how to spend the “music” portion of your discretionary income for the next few months, look no further — without further ado, here’s my list of 21 fall releases to watch for.

Rodney Crowell – Sex & Gasoline (Yep Roc, September 2)

In which one of country’s most freewheeling (read: consistently interesting) songwriters hooks up with Yep Roc for a song cycle that, if the press kit is to be trusted, is “about women.” You can be certain the songs do more than just live up to that simple billing, especially with titles like “The Rise and Fall of Intelligent Design” — and as an added bonus, our pal Joe Henry was behind the boards (and does a duet with Crowell on one track, “I’ve Done All That I Can”). What, you don’t like country? Yeah, me neither. But I’m buying this.

Brian Wilson – That Lucky Old Sun (Capitol, September 2)

Wilson’s last album of new material was the painful Gettin’ in Over My Head, and I look askance at any album whose credits include the words “Van Dyke Parks,” but try as I might, I just can’t shake my Wilson worship long enough to seriously consider not picking up a copy of That Lucky Old Sun, eagerly peeling off the wrapper, and giving it at least one rapt listen. After that, Brian, all bets are off.

Calexico – Carried to Dust (Touch & Go, September 9)

I tend to appreciate Calexico more in theory (or in combination with Iron & Wine) than in practice, but even if their music usually leaves me somewhat cold, I can almost always count on it to at least be interesting, in a dust-covered, pleasantly foggy way. Good for Sunday brunch on Mars.

Gym Class Heroes – The Quilt (Atlantic/Fueled by Ramen, September 9)

I managed to successfully avoid their “Breakfast in America”-inspired hit single, and I’m honestly still on the fence about The Quilt — Fueled by Ramen has yet to release anything I’d want to spend money on — but how can you not be interested in listening to an album that includes cameos from Busta Rhymes and Daryl Hall?

Lindsey Buckingham – Gift of Screws (Warner Bros., September 16)

It’s got the worst album artwork of the season (maybe even the year), and it isn’t the sprawling double album that fans have been waiting for since Screws was announced in the ’90s, but Lindsey Buckingham has never released a bad record, and I have no reason to believe he’s going to start now. (If sales are anything to go by, you don’t own a copy of his last effort, 2006’s Under the Skin. Repent.) For me, this one is fall’s most anticipated album.

George Clinton George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love (Shanachie, September 16)

Funk’s preeminent weirdo breaks a three-year absence with this 10-track disc featuring cameos from Carlos Santana, Sly Stone(!), El DeBarge(!!), RZA, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don’t know anything about the songs, but I do know that for a time, the album was being referred to as Any Percentage of You Is as Good as the Whole Pie. Good enough for me!

The Lemonheads – Varshons (Vagrant, September 16)
Our own Robert Cass will certainly be looking forward to this collection of covers that ranges from the expected (Gram Parsons’ “I Just Can’t Take It Anymore,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die”) to the not-so-expected (G.G. Allin’s “Layin’ Up With Linda,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”) and the downright strange (Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”). Pause and Play lists Varshons for September 16, but it isn’t available for pre-order anywhere, and the official Lemonheads site doesn’t mention it. Cross your fingers, Lemonheads fans!

Jackson Browne – Time the Conqueror (Inside)

His recording career kicked off in 1972 — and Time the Conqueror, incredibly, marks Jackson Browne’s first studio release apart from the Elektra/Asylum label family. That isn’t the only change, either; the cover shot reveals a whole new look for a singer/songwriter whose appearance has remained virtually unchanged for the last 30 years. Apart from cosmetic changes, however, Browne seems mostly the same — Conqueror was recorded with his longtime backing band, and if song titles like “The Drums of War” are anything to go by, he remains as topical as ever.

Charlie Haden Family & Friends – Rambling Boy (Decca, September 23)

He’s primarily known for his jazz albums — such as my personal favorite, the Pat Metheny collaboration Under the Missouri Sky — but Charlie Haden’s long musical history extends back to his youth as a member of the Haden Family, a group that performed at radio stations around the country during the 30s and 40s. Now Haden’s reaching back to those songs, and has invited his own family — including his wife, son, daughters, and son-in-law Jack Black — as well as a list of friends that includes Vince Gill, Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs, Rosanne Cash, and Elvis Costello.

Jenny Lewis – Acid Tongue (Warner Bros., September 23)

Lewis’ latest solo effort appears to be closer in spirit to Rilo Kiley than her last release, the rootsy, Watson Twins-assisted Rabbit Fur Coat; not only does it boast a duet appearance from Elvis Costello, it also features cameos from Johnathan Rice, Chris Robinson, Zooey Deschanel, and M. Ward. Wanna hear the title track before it reaches shelves? Fuck MySpace — dial 1-888-717-ACID.

Ben Folds – Way to Normal (Epic, September 30)

Okay, so his last album was rather disappointing — but he’s still Ben Folds, and I, for one, am willing to give him a mulligan and await Way to Normal with suitable levels of eagerness, especially after reading that Folds purposely leaked a batch of fake tracks (including “Brainwascht” and “The Frown Song”) just to fuck with people. Now that’s the Ben Folds we know and love.

Taj Mahal – Maestro (Heads Up, September 30)

Bitch, it’s Taj Mahal. You don’t need any other explanation, and neither do I. Matter of fact, I’m ignoring the fact that Jack Johnson makes a guest appearance on this record, because it’s Taj Mahal. Next month, I’ll even be driving 90 minutes each way to catch the legend on tour, and writing up my first concert review in…oh, Christ, has it really been 10 years?

Todd Rundgren – Arena (Hi Fi, September 30)

Personally, I haven’t given much of a damn about Todd Rundgren’s new material since plunking down for a year’s subscription to his “pioneering” (read: bug-ridden) service in the late ’90s. (God as my witness, I will never download a piece of software calling itself an Interocitor again.) Still, thinking music fans can only ignore Rundgren at their own peril, and he certainly seems jazzed up about Arena. For a more in-depth look at the album, wait for Robert Cass’ Arena post, coming one of these years!

Pete Seeger – At 89 (Appleseed, September 30)

A living legend and an American treasure. I’m still pissed at how poorly Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions record sold, and I shudder to think how thoroughly the mainstream music press will ignore Pete Seeger’s latest (and quite possibly last) album. No, his voice isn’t what it used to be, and yes, he’s a dirty old leftie — but dammit, that’s all part of the appeal. Required listening for patriots everywhere.

Ray LaMontagne – Gossip in the Grain (RCA, October 14)
Like a lot of people, I loved LaMontagne’s Van-channeling debut, and didn’t listen to his sophomore release more than a time or two — but I’m still something like excited to hear his latest. Ethan Johns is behind the boards again, but this time out, LaMontagne employed a live-in-the-studio approach, tracking with his touring band rather than relying on Johns for overdubbed backing. Thumbs up from here.

AC/DC, Black Ice (Columbia, October 20)

If you’ve heard one AC/DC album, you’ve heard them all — and even though I don’t count myself among the band’s perplexingly large legion of fans, I am utterly curious about Black Ice, if only because it’s the latest in a series of Wal-Mart exclusives (and the first to be distributed by a major label). The behemoth chain has goosed sales for REO Speedwagon, the Eagles, and Journey — just imagine what they’ll do for one of the last few consistently commercially relevant rock bands in the world.

Queen + Paul Rodgers – The Cosmos Rocks (Hollywood)

I’m filing this one next to Asia’s Phoenix under “things I am morbidly curious to hear.” Good Lord, would you look at that title? And that artwork? And Paul Rodgers behind the microphone? This may very well be awful, but I have a hard time believing it’ll be dull.

Unfortunately, we’re still too far out for pre-order links or artwork for some of late fall’s most interesting releases, including the following:

Various Artists – Love Train: The Sound of Philadelphia (Philadelphia International, October 21)
Mavis Staples – Live: Hope at the Hideout (Epitaph/Anti-, November 4)
Taylor Swift – Fearless (Big Machine, November 11)
Kelly Clarkson – Title TBA (RCA, November 18)

Still, this list should be enough to keep you busy for a few weeks. What’s on your new music list for the fall? What am I missing here? Let me know in the comments.

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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