Atlantic City

Took this while running on the north end of Atlantic City’s boardwalk this Saturday.

It’s tempting to make that house a metaphor for something — the huge casino-industrial complex towering over this run-down little house, new ways of life replacing old ones — but that casino is shuttered too. It’s just a whole bunch of sad under a grey sky and intermittent rain.

Things perked up a bit as we ran south. There were busy casinos on the boardwalk, even though the season hasn’t started in earnest (I was there for a bachelor party). Sections of the boardwalk were lined with elevated screens that looped a promotional video, and what song played behind the series of happy, sunny photos? You guessed it — the Band’s version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.”

It was heavily edited, so the only words you could hear were “Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty/And meet me tonight in Atlantic City,” which sounds fine and dandy, but if you know the song, you know that it’s pretty dark, and I can’t decide if it’s horribly inappropriate or horribly fitting for that campaign.

The details get a little hazy, but we know the dude in the song can’t find work, he’s in debt, he’s falling in with the mob, and that he’s taken all his money out of the bank. Not sure if that’s to bet it all in AC, or just because he’s moving there to work for the mob — I’ve always wanted it to be that he’s planning on making one big bet to get out of debt entirely, but I don’t know if the lyrics support that. Either way, if you asked me what that song was about, I’d say desperation. And that it’s depressing as hell. But that’s my interpretation. I’m not a gambler, and I’m risk averse to a fault. I played slots twice this weekend, and babysat a blackjack hand for like five minutes. Not exactly the profile of someone who’d buy his lady a bus ticket so she could watch him put it all on the line.

But to someone who’s from Atlantic City, or who spends a lot of time there, this could be a song about hope. About the devotion that makes you stay with someone who’s backed into a corner but just may find a way out, against all odds. Given the city’s financial struggles, “Maybe everything that dies someday comes back” is just the kind of hope people there need right now. And doesn’t the Band’s version sound nice and jaunty?

The Band — “Atlantic City” (Bruce Springsteen cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

CD Monday

Record Store Day

Rolling around this week with this sampler I got on my way out of BK Music on Record Store Day. I haven’t listened all the way through yet, but I already love it, because it serves as a reminder of a very fun and fruitful Saturday.

What I got:

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” B/W “Maybe In The Night”

Matthew E. White

This was my one must-get item this year. Y’all’ve already heard me freak out about the A-side, but I’m just as psyched for people to hear the B-side, “Maybe In The Night,” which has a fantastic singalong chorus that climbs right into White’s falsetto wheelhouse. And it was mixed at Abbey Road, which is neat. I’ll update this post whenever that one makes it online.

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” (feat. Natalie Prass) [Spotify/iTunes]

Charlie Parr — I Ain’t Dead Yet EP

Charlie Parr

This was a leap of faith, but given how much faith I have in Phil Cook (who recorded a cover of Parr’s “1922 Blues“), I shouldn’t be surprised that it paid off. Parr has such a great, whip-smart writing voice, with a dry humor I’m really enjoying. You can get a taste of that deadpan humor at the start of this video of Parr doing the EP’s title track.

Charlie Parr — “I Ain’t Dead Yet” (live) [YouTube/Discogs]

Allen Toussaint — Live in Philadelphia 1975

Allen Toussaint

Gonna have to report back about this one. I’m waiting for just the right cooking situation — something that involves lots of chopping — so I can get a good listen.

Allen Toussaint — Live in Philadelphia 1975 [YouTube/Discogs]

BONUS: Ryan Adams — Live at Carnegie Hall

Ryan Adams

So BK does a raffle before the store opens on Record Store Day, and by some glorious stroke of luck, Bandmate 4eva Doug and I had the first two numbers, giving us first crack at a bin full of box sets, t-shirts, and other fun stuff. My adrenaline was off the charts when I was walking up to see what the choices were, and it reached Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction levels when I saw this 6-LP Ryan Adams set was there. I love these big, career-spanning live albums — Doug actually got something similar, the one Drive-By Truckers put out last year — in part because they function as greatest hits albums as well. I’ve listened to Ryan Adams a fair amount, but I don’t have physical copies of many of his albums, so Live at Carnegie Hall fills in gaps that would have gone unfilled for who knows how long.

This particular situation feels almost star-crossed, because the album of his that I’ve listened to more than any other isn’t an official release — it’s just a download of the live set he did before his 2011 Letterman performance. I love Adams in that setting, where he can tell discursive stories and jokes and jump between eras of his career. Many have said that Adams needs to self-edit more, but the flexibility of the solo acoustic environment suits him well, I think, and I love having two full nights of his music and storytelling at my fingertips. One hell of a raffle prize, that’s for sure.

One more note before I go — BK Music continues to amaze me with their customer service, from the good-natured way they approach the chaos of Record Store Day, to their willingness to go above and beyond to help you find what you need. If you haven’t been to BK, I recommend going and getting to know the nice people who work there. Such a great place.

Ryan Adams — “New York, New York” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]




Friday News and Notes


I had a whole other News and Notes post written, but there are a few Prince-related things I’d like to share instead.

  • Like a lot of people probably did, I found out he died via Twitter. It’ll most certainly be a “Where were you when…” moment for me, though where I was seems so lame: Zaxby’s. Waiting for my order of chicken fingers. The juxtaposition of such an inspiring cultural figure and such an uninspiring setting is enough to make me want to make some serious life changes.
  • Like David Bowie, Prince represented, for me, a profound bravery. A willingness to be super weird in the name of being true to yourself. I feel intense, normative pressure — I’ve felt it my entire life — and I’m not sure I’ll ever manage to strip enough of that away to be all the weirdo I could be, but listening to artists like Bowie and Prince is one way to experience weirdness vicariously and safely. It’s a pale shade of actually putting yourself out there, but it strikes me as a crucial part of the enormous contribution that Prince made.
  • Social media platforms can facilitate a kind of performative grief that I’m not crazy about, but I do like seeing pictures of the records people are listening to at a time like this. There’s a line from Almost Famous that I’ve always loved, and I think it applies here: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” Prince may be gone, but you can still pick up and hold a copy of 1999. It’s a real thing with size, weight, and shape. It’s a comfort. Seeing that other people are holding and spinning the same albums — it’s like a big, diffuse vigil. I joined in by spinning Around the World in a Day while cooking dinner last night.
  • Records are especially important in this case, because of Prince’s vigilance when it came to pulling his music from streaming services and sites. You can’t just go to YouTube or Spotify and channel memories that way. I don’t have all his albums, but I have enough to last me until the inevitable and unfortunate postmortem price gouging runs its course. When it does, I recommend getting your hands on hard copies too. It’s the right thing to do generally, but it’s extra meaningful this time around.
  • The last record of his that I bought before he died was a used copy of the Batman soundtrack, and I’d been meaning to write a thing about what that album says about Prince’s character. Doing the soundtrack for a superhero movie that your label’s parent company is making sounds like a recipe for disaster, but he absolutely dove in, writing songs from characters’ perspectives and changing his iconic look to match the universe that Tim Burton created, and the album was a huge success. Some of that has to do with cross-platform promotion and the movie itself being a hit, but still — that spirit of taking something frivolous and fully inhabiting it creatively says a lot about the kind of artist Prince was, I think.
  • Overheard at work yesterday: “There is nothing better than when Prince comes on the radio.”
  • My band does a cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which was written by Prince. Somebody got a crappy iPhone recording of our version at practice one night, and I put it on Soundcloud a couple years back. It’s pretty harsh — watch out for a jarring, loud start — but it’s more in the vein of original arrangement than Sinéad O’Connor’s, so you might get a kick out it. I definitely do when we play it. Soloing during a Prince song feels incredible, like total freedom. Like you’ve been temporarily transported to another musical dimension where confidence is infinite and gravity doesn’t exist. I’d like to think that’s exactly where he is now.

Har Mar Superstar

Har Mar Superstar

Is this what it was like to hear guitar feedback for the first time? Like, “What the hell is making this sound and what’s broken about it?”

I am genuinely fascinated by “Famous Last Words” from Har Mar Superstar’s new album. The first time I heard it I thought something was going terribly wrong with my headphones — maybe an especially loud kick drum did some damage to them, or maybe the song included a frequency they couldn’t reproduce correctly. Mrs. YHT thinks it sounds like when someone in a movie is having a mental breakdown. I tend to think it sounds more like someone in a movie sustaining a concussion, or when a sound designer is trying dramatize a vacuum chamber being punctured.

The crazy thing is that, when I’m listening to the song, I can’t wait for those moments (when you listen you’ll know exactly which ones I’m talking about). My brain braces for them, thinking that there’s going to be a blast of volume that never comes. And I feel it in my chest, like anxiety attacking and releasing at the same time. It’s wild. And awesome.

Sorry to be all Marvin Berry about this, but it really feels new and different to me. See what you think:

Har Mar Superstar — “Famous Last Words” [Spotify/iTunes]

CD Monday

Woodie Guthrie

Baby YHT has been sleeping much better lately. We’d fallen into the trap of going for walks and drives to get her to go down at night, and once those drives passed the hour mark, it became clear we’d have to go back to letting her cry it out. She was a trouper though — after one very angry night she got back in a groove and hasn’t had problems going to sleep since.

As frustrating as those drives were, it was comforting (for me, and for Baby YHT too, I’m sure) having a backup plan that worked 100% of the time. And she was so sweet and docile when we’d get back.

Woodie Guthrie — “(Take Me) Riding In My Car” [YouTube/Discogs]

Friday News and Notes: Record Store Day Edition


These aren’t your usual Friday News and Notes — tomorrow is Record Store Day, so let’s get some special edition, limited pressing, hand-numbered (OK, so they’re not actually numbered) bullets going…

  • As per usual, I’ll be starting the day where so many of my RSD wishes have been granted: BK Music. I have a gig at McCook’s tonight, so waking up early and getting close to the front of the line tomorrow will involve an extra degree of difficulty, but Bandmate 4eva Doug is giving me a ride, and a 7-inch copy of the Matthew E. White/Natalie Prass/DJ Harrison collaboration “Cool Out” is on the line, so there’s plenty of motivation for getting out of bed when my phone’s alarm tells me to. Also I’ll be having bad FOMO dreams all night, so that should help.
  • That “Cool Out” single is the only item I’m dead set on, but there are a few others I’m interested in taking a closer look at: There’s the Etta James At Last reissue, the Allen Toussaint Live in Philadelphia 1975 album (with “Southern Nights” on it), J Dilla’s lost vocal album, Charlie Parr’s releasing an EP (got into him thanks to Phil Cook), the Hamilton Leithauser/Paul-Maroon EP… I love Hoist, but I just want Phish to release twenty-something dollar reissues of some of these albums. I’d still be up for, like, holding it for a few minutes, maybe?
  • Lots of fun stuff happening around town in addition to BK’s celebration: Steady Sounds has DJs and an attractive mention of pizza on the FB event page, Plan 9 is hosting performances by Ohbliv, Lady God, and Zgomot, Deep Grove will have Sugar Shack donuts and a raffle for a Music Hall Turntable, Vinyl Conflict will be continuing their self-styled oppositional Customer Appreciation Day, featuring a Parking Lot Party and a Simpsons arcade game tournament… so many options, so many ways to support stores that bring you closer to the music that you love, past and present.

Hope you find your ideal spot to cool out tomorrow.

Matthew E. White — “Cool Out” (feat. Natalie Prass) [Spotify/iTunes]

CD Monday

Johnny Cash

Found a copy of the San Quentin live album last week at Goodwill. It’s a little on the dirty side, but I got a thing of Titebond II and I’m gonna try the wood glue trick on it.

Did you hear the thing about how Merle Haggard was in the audience for one of Johnny Cash’s San Quentin shows? Apparently it was more than a decade earlier than the one they recorded there, but still — pretty wild.

I’ve never actually heard that album, I don’t think, but this one’s a favorite.

Johnny Cash — “Folsom Prison Blues” [Spotify/iTunes]

Friday News and Notes

Bob Dylan

  • CD Monday update: Hush is a really interesting study in limitations and boundaries. For so much of it, it sounds like Bobby McFerrin is keeping up — compensating for the fact that, especially in the classical pieces, the human voice isn’t made to cleanly switch between tones quickly. But then comes “Hoedown!” and Yo-Yo Ma is the one having to keep up and compensate. That willingness for both to push up against their limits — and push hard, in sometimes less than flattering ways — shows a generosity of spirit that makes this album really special, I think.
  • Sturgill First Listen, if’n you hadn’t yet.
  • I’d recommend the First Listen of this Sam Beam/Jesca Hoop album. I’d also recommend watching this video during the chorus of “Soft Place To Land.” I did coincidentally, and it was pure joy.
  • Two other albums I spent time with this week: Robbie Fulks’ new one, Upland Stories, and Glenn Jones’ Fleeting. I really like “Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gals” from the former and “Mother’s Day” from the latter. Also really like the cover of Fleeting. Gonna be hard to resist if I see it in a record store.
  • No show updates for this week — I’m on full-time daddy duty with Mrs. YHT out of town. Might use this opportunity to engage in some Bob Dylan indoctrination. The adults in the household are split 1 for and 1 against, so Baby YHT has the swing vote…

I vote that everyone has a great weekend!