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Five for Friday: Five Unifying Albums

It may traditionally be the time to start spreading holiday cheer, but one of the most divisive U.S. elections in history has left many, regardless of political affiliation, feeling worn out or bummed out. And as near-nightly protests continue around the country, it doesn't appear the healing process has begun. So, let us pause, and attempt to chill out by disappearing into song. We believe music has the power to mend. Regardless of where your ballot leaned earlier this month, here are five artists and albums we can all unite behind.

Marvin Gaye That's the Way Love Is
Marvin Gaye reinvented himself as a protest singer with 1971's What's Going On. The album continues to shape and impact modern artists, as it brought a personal touch to tales of life during in uneasy times. But for now, forget about that. During the prior year, with That's the Way Love Is, Gaye was still fulfilling his role as a Motown flagship artist. This classic captures Gaye at his freewheeling, romantic best, and also on the cusp of more topical works. (See the bluesy, slow-dancing heartache of "Abraham, Martin and John," a song made famous by Dion and one dedicated to fallen U.S. leaders.) As a whole, the record stands as a showcase for Gaye's easy-going diversity, from the symphonic "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" to the low-key strut of "Groovin'" to the funky flourishes of "I Wish it Would Rain." Love rarely sounds this cool.

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins Rabbit Fur Coat
If the past few weeks are any indication, we seem to have lost the ability to talk reasonably to one another. Open Facebook, and risk facing a torrent of rants from friends threatening to block everyone with a differing opinion. Relax, then, with the always-conversational work of one Jenny Lewis. Songs like "Rise Up with Fists!!" may on the surface appear to be protest anthems, but they're really about finding common ground, even if all we share are our faults. "Are you really that pure, sir?" Lewis sings before noting, via call-and-response twilight harmonies, a man's cheating ways. She's not above documenting her own digressions, either, and Rabbit Fur Coat tackles issues of faith and personal fears – cancer, poverty – with a Southerner's good manners and a Californian's sense of cautious optimism. In other words, she handles topics with a little bit of country refinement and a dose of starlight theatricality. "I'll pretend," Lewis sings amid the Western, Grand Ole Opry-like rush of "The Big Guns," "that everybody here wants peace."

Oasis (What's the Story) Morning Glory?
Think back to mid-90s era of the Bill Clinton presidency. There were personal scandals, sure, and even an impeachment, but for rock n' roll fans, the biggest debate wasn't necessarily left of right but rather Blur or Oasis. History seems to have favored the more musically adventurous Blur, but don't completely overlook Oasis, led by the highly cantankerous brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher. Their very public spats – name-calling in the press, bickering on stage – bordered on shtick, at least until they ended up in a legal battle over the matter of the band's breakup. But for about a decade, the group proved a reliable source for Brit-pop singles. Oasis' best songs – some included on this album, such as the slow-dance "Wonderwall" and the shake-off-the-bad-times vibe of "Roll With It" – marry classic melodies with a punk rock snarl. Here's the real lesson: If Noel and Liam could put aside their differences a decade of pop hits, maybe we can survive and come together over the next four years?

Lucinda Williams Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
America is a sprawling place, but much of our popular culture comes from two places: Los Angeles and New York. Thus, pundits that failed to predict a Donald Trump win have now charged the media with being out of touch with rural America. Or maybe they just haven't been listening to the right records. Lucinda Williams' comeback album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – at the time her first record in about six years – is a road trip through the more rustic parts of our nation. Visit, for instance, a Mississippi juke joint in "2 Kool 2 Be 4-gotten," a Louisiana town in "Lake Charles," or a Southern prison in "Concrete and Barbed Wire." These are tales of scorched-earth love, drunken poets, and everyday misfits. Or, you know, common people. Williams delivers it all with a bluesy twang and an understanding tone.

Tom Petty The Complete Studio Albums Vol. 1 (1976-1991)
When it comes to American rock n' rollers, few have been as consistent as, say, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. But the latter is more overtly political, so let's focus on Petty, whose seeing his catalog reissued this December. The nine works that make up The Complete Studio Albums Vol. 1 contain recognizable hit after recognizable hit. Check, for instance, the fiery "Refugee" off Damn the Torpedoes (calm down, it's a metaphor) or the rebel-gone-wrong tale of "Into the Great Wide Open" from the album of the same name. One can go through each one of these sets and find a song or three that have become as instantly familiar as anything in the catalogs of the Beatles or Rolling Stones. "Free Fallin,'" "Don't Come Around Here No More," "The Waiting" – the sing-along list goes on and on.

November 18, 2016

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