Nine Albums for Desert Listening

In this new age of iTunes and 99-cent singles, I can hear it already: “ALBUMS?”. Yes, albums. I was raised on vinyl and the full-length album format (that’s pre-CD and pre-iPod for the younger folks). Most albums were (and often still are) unified by theme or concept (not unlike photographs, eh?); these were meant to be listened to and absorbed from start to finish. Even as an iPod owner/user, I still purchase and listen to only full length albums. Singles don’t cut it for me, and similar to a photographic body of work, it’s hard to understand the artist’s intent when only pieces of the full picture have been extracted. As with the pursuit of my photography, I prefer a full immersion experience, just as the artist intended it.

Although there are ideal moments and places for it (like when driving, for instance), I’ll add the that I do not really recommend listening to music while in the desert (or any natural environment). These places produce a music all their own, and the beautiful and evocative sounds of wind; rustling leaves; and canyon wrens are infinitely more in character than the sound of a wailing saxophone or a shredding electric guitar.

I’ll also add that this is not intended to be a “best ever” list (I’ll likely update it as time goes by). I enjoy all musical genres (this list is rather eclectic) and have compiled this list over a number of years spent in the desert with repeated listening to what I considered the most ideal candidates. This collection of music works well towards absorbing the landscape and heightening the experience for me. May you experience the same in your favorite landscapes…

Without further adieu, here are nine suggested albums for desert listening. In no particular order…

1. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. Simply one of the best albums of all times, all genres, and it goes surprisingly well with expansive desert landscapes.

2. Bill Frisell: Good Dog, Happy Man. Frisell is one of my favorite artists, and this album combined with the right landscape has brought tears to my eyes on a number of occasions.

3. R. Carlos Nakai: Canyon Trilogy. The Master of the native American flute. There couldn’t be a more perfect album for the desert.

4. Thievery Corporation: The Richest Man in Babylon. Thievery Corporation may not seem a good fit for the desert, but this album blends with the landscape surprisingly well. One of my favorite artists.

5. Alexi Murdoch: Time Without Consequence. Thanks to my friend, Scott Schroeder, who turned me onto the wonderful music of this Scotsman. My very first listen to him was in Death Valley National Park, and I was hooked.

6. Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny: Beyond the Missouri Sky. The Desert west is a long way from Missouri, but this just works. Incredible players, incredible compositions, incredible album.

7. Eilen Jewell: Boundary Country. Thanks to my friend Harley Goldman, for turning me on to this great artist. Her voice and style couldn’t be a better compliment to the desert.

8. Sigur Rós: Agaetis Byrjun. A sonic delight. This album works in the desert in a way that I would have never expected. Great thanks to my friend Graeme Wilson for introducing me to this great band from Iceland.

9. Bob Marley: Legend. Perhaps an odd fit for the wide open landscapes of the American West, but positive vibrations lead to positive photographs and experiences.

I hope you enjoy this collection of music – I look forward to hearing your personal suggestions for listening!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.


12 thoughts on “Nine Albums for Desert Listening

  1. I’d throw in some bell evans and chet baker right after kind of blue!

    and of course gil evans and stan kenton




  2. Here are my 9 to add:

    Miles Davis-In A Silent Way
    Freddie Hubbard-Red Clay
    Nicolas Gunn-Return To The Grand Canyon
    Buena Vista Social Club
    John Coltrane-Ballads
    Charles Lloyd-Forest Flower
    Dave Brubeck-One Alone
    Deuter-East Of The Full Moon
    anything by R Carlos Nakai

  3. I’m right there with you on Kind of Blue – fantastic album.

    I’d like to add to your list my all time favorite artist.

    k.d. lang – Watershed

  4. Hey Michael

    “Kind of Blue” is one of the greatest albums of all time .. but . IMO .. the rhythm, tone and mood of jazz is, and always will be, urban.



  5. Great list, I have the Miles Davis album. Fortunately, Zune Pass allows me to be able to play any album, for a long and as often as I want, without having to buy it.

  6. THANKS for all the comments!

    David: for the reason Carl cites, I’ve never been able to get any other traditional jazz to “fit” the landscape; somehow, Kind of Blue transcends this, even though Carl doesn’t think so 🙂

    Bruce: I need to check out a few of your selections. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed Buena Vista Social Club many times ‘out there’. Sometimes that album really works for me, other times less so. Regardless, phenomenal album.

    H: I know your love for KD! I’ll have to check out that one.

    Thank you!

  7. I know I’m a bit late, but here goes (note, my photo experiences are mainly on the open plains, rather than the desert, but the feeling of the two are not that much different:

    1. Airo: Tatanka
    2. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Dub Qawwali
    3. Andy Hamilton: Silvershine
    4. Carlos Nakai: Emergence
    5. Nicole: Passion Spirit

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