Properly mourning the musicians who have died in recent weeks has become a bizarre challenge. Before you've come to terms with the loss of one artist, news breaks that we've lost another. Lest their memories fade quickly—and to provide the proper context for listeners who might be unfamiliar with the work of artists that have left us recently—here's where to start paying tribute.
Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate Managers (2003)
Adam Schlesinger, who passed away from coronavirus-related complications April 1, co-founded this brilliant New York power-pop group in the mid-'90s. On their third album, he helped craft masterful, radio-ready odes to suburbia, lower-middle-class life, and the lovers that got away.
Bill Withers, Just as I Am (1971)
Recorded with the help of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, the debut album from the soul legend—who died March 30 from heart complications—was an instant classic, gifting the world powerful statements like "Grandma's Hands" and "Ain't No Sunshine."
John Prine, John Prine (1971)
Everyone from Johnny Cash to Jason Isbell has sung the praises of Prine, who succumbed to COVID-19 on April 7. One spin of his debut will make anyone a convert to his finely honed Americana. The album also introduced a new standard to the country canon with the beautifully anguished "Angel From Montgomery."
Cristina, Sleep It Off (1984)
Long before she became another victim of the pandemic March 31, Cristina Monet-Palaci recorded this no-wave disco gem with the help of Don Was, setting the template for oddball pop sensations like Zola Jesus and Blood Orange.
Various artists, Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music From Disney Films (1988)
To best understand the genius of Hal Willner, the producer and former Saturday Night Live music supervisor, who died April 7, start with this 1988 tribute album featuring exotica legend Yma Sumac, Sun Ra and his Arkestra, James Taylor and Ringo Starr, all covering classics from the House of Mouse. ROBERT HAM.