Tag Archives: Bruce Springsteen

2019 in Review: 25 Favorites

Last one, y’all. I promise. Here are 25 non-instrumental, non-jazz, non-audiovisual, non-RVA albums that meant a great deal to me in 2019. Counting the other posts, I believe this sets a new high water mark for number of albums I’ve blurbed at the end of the year. I want to thank my mom for editing the RVA post, and Mrs. YHT for understanding why this quixotic quest to document the year’s listening is so important to me.

As with the other posts, these aren’t ranked. Alphabetical order. See y’all in 2020.

African Acid Is The Future – Ambiance II

This was a gift from Mrs. YHT. Les Filles de Illighadad remixed? With some additional Afrobeat thrown in? Sign me up. The best part — I ended up getting to see Les Filles in person at the University of Richmond later in the year. What a gift that was, and spinning this album is how a prepped for that performance.

Bedouine — Bird Songs of a Killjoy

This whole album is written, arranged, and played beautifully, but do me a favor and spend some time with “Echo Park.” Put on headphones and really listen to the details. The effect on the backing vocals. The winding instrumental journey that runs from 1:16 to 1:43, and the mesmerizing breakdown that follows it. It’s like a painting that’s stunning from a distance and even more compelling up close. Then zoom back out an enjoy the rest of the album, because each track is rewarding in its own way.

Better Oblivion Community Center — S/T

I keep coming back to this record. It’s sad. It’s sturdy. It’s comforting. It’s been a good friend throughout 2019, and “Chesapeake” is an all-timer. In fact, I’m adding it to my “All Time” playlist, which is home to the songs that mean the most to me in the whole wide world. That image of parents and children both coming together and growing apart with music as the backdrop — it’s so wrenching, yet the song’s tone is so gentle. Could be my favorite song released this year.

Big Thief — Two Hands
Big Thief — U.F.O.F.

There are times when you look back and realize you’d experienced something incredible. Raising kids is that way. It’s hard to know how special a time is until it’s gone. Other times, you’re knee-deep in incredibleness and you know it. That’s what it’s been like to follow Big Thief this year. An A+ album in U.F.O.F. A surprise unmarked 7-inch mailed to those of us who pre-ordered U.F.O.F. Then another A+ album in Two Hands. I like to imagine this is what it was like to be a Stevie Wonder fan in the early 1970s — amazing music coming at you at a furious pace, and a constant sense of amazement that it’s happening.

James Blake — Assume Form

I remember the jolt generated by seeing Rosalía’s name among the contributors to Assume Form. She and Blake have both mastered the art of haunting understatement, and while there’s lots to like about this album, “Barefoot in the Park” has been my main takeaway.

Bon Iver — i,i

A memory that will stick with me for a long time: Listening to the “Holyfields” Song Exploder while cleaning out my childhood bedroom.

Bill Callahan — Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Just gonna leave this here:

True love is not magic
It’s certainty
And what comes after certainty
A world of mystery

Chris Cohen — S/T

I won Small Friend’s anniversary grab bag drawing back in March, and an advance CD copy of Chris Cohen’s self-titled album was part of the haul. I listened to it over and over in the car, marveling at the way it marries folk music and modal jazz. At least I think that’s modal jazz I’m hearing. I almost put this in the jazz post, but thought that might be going too far out on a limb, given my limited understanding of music theory. But give it a listen and tell me you don’t hear shades of Kind of Blue — the way the songs shift from one musical space to another with tremendous grace.

Jake Xerxes Fussell — Out of Sight

A highlight of 2019: getting to shake Jake Xerxes Fussell’s hand and buy a record from him when he opened for Mountain Man at Richmond Music Hall back in March. I thanked him for his music, and we chatted for 30 seconds or so. Seemed like a nice person — his demeanor is an easy one, just as his delivery on his recorded material seems effortless. But seeing him perform was totally thrilling; there’s a sense of significance around the songs he sings, because of the way he bridges the musical past and present, and because of how proficiently he draws on tradition. I was standing near the back, and I remember being thankful I couldn’t see his guitar work — it made what he was doing seem magical. I feel very lucky to have been there for that show. (Mountain Man was excellent as well.)

Steve Gunn — The Unseen in Between

You how you know an album is good? When it comes out and you listen to it a whole bunch, then you see the artist later in the year and think you’re hearing songs you love from previous albums, only to realize they’re the new songs you fell in love with earlier that year. That’s exactly what happened when I saw Steve Gunn at Richmond Music Hall in May. The songs on The Unseen in Between have become old friends in no time at all. “New Familiar” indeed.

Helado Negro — This Is How You Smile

The grace and goodness of This Is How You Smile are immeasurable. The air in the room changes when this is playing, like you’re being invited to pause your life and hop on a wavelength of hard-earned peace and clarity.

Hiss Golden Messenger — Terms of Surrender

I start to feel healing happen the moment a Hiss Golden Messenger song starts playing, so a new Hiss album being released is like being handed a go-bag of medicine and provisions that can will me get through another year in this sad, nutty political environment. Like, “Here, you’ll need this.” I’m so grateful for the music M.C. Taylor makes, and Terms of Surrender is another winner in my book.

Brittany Howard — Jaime

A major regret of 2019 is not having caught Brittany Howard on her Jaime tour, but I did catch a full performance that was streamed online. So damn good. And I got downright giddy when she launched into “Breakdown,” my favorite late-career Prince song. This album is brave, varied, immersive, and affecting. Side note: I’d recommend her Broken Record interview with Rick Rubin. It’s as clear a window I think I’ve gotten into Howard’s process as a musician, and they talk about ghosts and aliens at the end.

Jr Jr — Invocations/Conversations

This double album would be a miracle based on the songs alone. Tracks like “Day In, Day Out,” “Low,” “NYC,” and “Big Bear Mountain” are evidence that Jr Jr is reaching a rarified level when it comes to crafting pop songs. But knowing what they went through on the business side — having to fight for song rights, waiting years to release the album they wanted to release — makes Invocations/Conversations seem even more miraculous. It’s a gem.

Mdou Moctar — Ilana (The Creator)

Loved his previous electric albums. Loved his acoustic album. Loved seeing him live. Loved his Third Man live album. It’s all fantastic, yet somehow, his true studio debut is still a revelation. It’s like when Jim Carrey reaches the wall in The Truman Show and walks through the door into this whole other world that’s waiting for him. The sky is the limit for Mdou. Can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Nivhek — After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house

There’s music that’s comforting, and then there’s the stuff you listen to at your lowest — stuff that keeps you afloat when it feels like you’re about to sink. “dlp 1.1” from William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, for example. It’s like I’m carrying around a life preserver, accessible by opening up Spotify on my phone. (Easier to carry around than a real life preserver. Less bulky.) After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house was my Spotify life preserver this year. I listened to it over and over, and I when I did, it felt like I was disappearing into it.

Daniel Norgren — Wooh Dang

If I gave out an annual award for the album that felt like I’d heard it a million times before upon the very first listen, this one would be the clear winner. I can remember going running with this and zoning out and in with the album’s flow, which is easy and organic. I ended up snagging the fancy-pantsy Vinyl Me, Please version because I love it so much. A used standard copy was on sale at Plan 9 for weeks and weeks. If it’s still there, go pick it up immediately, for the love of all that’s good and decent.

Angel Olsen — All Mirrors

“Lark,” y’all. Holy shit. I picked up a copy of All Mirrors on its release day, which happened to be the day Mrs. YHT and I were traveling to Asheville, NC to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. I asked if we could stop by Harvest Records real quick — not to look around, just to get this — and was surprised to see how many they had in stock. It was the kind of quantity you’d have if the artist were doing an in-store performance. When we got to our B&B, I set up my portable record player, started spinning the album, and pulled up Olsen’s Wikipedia page. Sure enough, it lists Asheville as her (current) hometown. Weird, eh?

Jessica Pratt — Quiet Signs

So spooky. So beautiful. I re-listened to side A today and marveled once again at the uniqueness of the mood set by Quiet Signs. It’s unlike anything else I heard all year — not sad, exactly, and not trippy. It’s interstitial, like she found a dimension in between this world and another. (Come to think of it, the album cover does kinda look like when Matthew McConaughey was floating behind the bookcase in Interstellar…)

Joe Pug — The Flood in Color

It’s too late for Christmas/Hanukkah gift recommendations, so put this in your back pocket for a vinyl-loving family member’s birthday — Joe Pug sells a bundle of his whole discography, including his debut Nation of Heat EP. Color vinyl and everything. My in-laws got it for me last Christmas, and it’s brought me a great deal of joy this year. Speaking of 2019, the Big Pug Bundle (it’s not really called that, I promise) grew by one excellent album this year, as Pug released The Flood in Color, which contains some of his sharpest writing yet.

Joan Shelley — Like the River Loves the Sea

That thing where you a song grabs your attention and puts a songwriter on your radar, and then the next new album wallops you with a whole new set of songs, each delivering on what you loved about that original song? This is one of those. “Wild Indifference” put Joan Shelley on my radar in 2017, and Like the River Loves the Sea has been an incredibly generous second chapter in getting to know Shelley’s music. Were I to make a top songs of the year post, “The Fading” would be on it.

Shovels & Rope — By Blood

Dunno about y’all, but to my ears, By Blood is indicative of a leap in songwriting, placing Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst in a whole other echelon of lyricists. These stories are so richly rendered, and while you still get their signature sound and energy, you get to live through fully formed narrative experiences. “Mississippi Nuthin'” may be my favorite of this set. So powerful. So uncanny. Like they’re talking about a friendship from your own past that you’re scared to confront.

Bruce Springsteen — Western Stars

This album has a cinematic quality that grabbed me, and I’m not surprised Springsteen turned it into a documentary film. Maybe I’m saying this because I listened to it a bunch while at my mom’s house in Norfolk, but I think my dad would have loved Western Stars. He loved old movies, and romanticization of the American West was right up his alley.

Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride

My personal AOTY. I made more memories with this album than any other in 2019. Excitedly listening to the first few tracks, celebrating with friends via text on release day, delightedly opening my copy when it came in the mail and finding the band had signed it, seeing the band at the Norfolk stop and marveling at their merch operation, making videos of singing “2021” with my kids, spinning the album during family dinners… Father of the Bride soaked into so much of my 2019. I can’t imagine the year without it.

Whitney — Forever Turned Around

My daughter loves Whitney, and for the first time, I got to share the excitement of a new album rollout with her. Listening to singles in the car ahead of release day. Opening up our vinyl copy when it came in the mail. Spinning it at home a bunch of times over those next few days. Together, those moments form a memory I’ll hold onto dearly.

A few more albums I loved in 2019 (I’ll probably keep adding to this):

Tyler Childers — Country Squire
Justin Townes Earle — The Saint of Lost Causes
Dori Freeman — Every Single Star
Itasca — Spring
Durand Jones & The Indications — American Love Call
Anna Meredith — FIBS
The Mountain Goats — In League with Dragons
Panda Bear — Buoys
Sharon Van Etten — Remind Me Tomorrow
John Vanderslice — The Cedars

More 2019 in Review

2019 in Review: Instrumental
2019 in Review: Jazz
2019 in Review: Audiovisual
2019 in Review: RVA

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Friday News and Notes: Holiday Music Edition

natalie-prass

In recent years, I’ve made the mistake of waiting until the two or three days leading up to Christmas to start spinning holiday tunes, so I’ve been hitting it hard in the last week or so. John Fahey. John Denver (Toddler YHT’s choice: “I want the mountain one”). The Kingston Trio. Charlie Byrd. Here are a few web-based recommendations:

Too much good stuff, too few Christmases per year, y’all. One more thing: Don’t miss tonight’s No BS! Brass Band show at The Broadberry — it’s three things in one: A canned food drive, a beer release and, well, a No BS! show. Luray opens. Click here for tickets.

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Friday News and Notes

moses-sumney

Fancy a few Friday news and notes thingies?

  • Today’s an awesome release day (hello there, Hiss Golden Messenger), but I left two crucial releases off last week’s list: White Laces (wrote about No Floor yesterday) and Moses Sumney. Lordy, is Lamentations good. I pretty sure I remember “Worth It” from when he opened for Sufjan Stevens at the Altria Theater — it went straight on my “That’s My Jam” playlist after I heard this version. “Lonely World” is also outstanding, with an assist from Thundercat. Well worth a listen, if you’re not already a Sumney fan. Or if you are. And since everyone on Earth falls into one of those two categories, there’s no excuse for not listening.
  • Some really great Spacebomb news — their newest roster addition, Georgie, just released a song called “Company Of Thieves” and a corresponding video that looks like it was really fun to make. This is some seriously punchy stuff, both in terms of the strength of her voice and the oomph the horns provide. More plz thx.
  • Next long run I go on I’m listening to the Bruce Fresh Air interview. Can’t wait. Also looking forward to reading his book. There need to be more hours in the day so I can do that like… now.
  • Goodwill scores this week include Wynton Marsalis’ debut album, the soundtrack for The Empire Strikes Back, and two spoken word Star Trek albums, which include three or four narrated episodes each. I’m not all that into Star Trek, but they looked too campy to walk away from.
  • Too much good music this weekend. Lucy Dacus (with My Darling Fury and Spooky Cool) at The National tonight and the Richmond Folk Festival all weekend. Here’s hoping the weather doesn’t act up too much — Stephen Lecky and the whole Folk Fest machine put in so much work each year, and it’s such a gift to the city. Stop by early and often, and be sure to throw a few bucks into an orange donation bucket. You’ll probably get a sticker, and you can wear it like a badge of honor.

I whined a little about the weather earlier, but if you’re in Florida/Georgia/South Carolina and you’re reading this, be safe. Here’s hoping the storm heads east and doesn’t circle back around.

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Julien Baker

julien-baker

Over the weekend, I stopped by Deep Groove (well, the alley next to Deep Groove) to catch a performance by Julien Baker.

I stayed near the back so I could make sure the bike I was too lazy to lock up didn’t roll away, and I’m so happy I stood there. We did miss out on quieter moments, but Baker’s voice emerged clear and resonant and triumphant again and again, and it turned into this incredibly inspiring group experiment in active listening. During songs, people were silent. Cars drove by and the wind picked up here and there, but none of the humans assembled to see Baker made a sound while she sang. It was inspiring.

The quieter moments helped me soak in what I was seeing, from the gentle slope of the alley to the way Baker’s expressions grew more pronounced the further into songs she got. It was like a cycle — the song would build, the lyrics would overwhelm, and those of us in the back would hear the climactic words loud and clear. It’s amazing how smooth and consistent those loudest notes were. Even though they delivered the most emotional words, her singing was as steady as it could have been. That alchemy that turns turmoil into strength via music — she’s got it down.

One word I was surprised to hear emerge in one of those climactic moments was badlands, as in Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands.” I was standing next to Deep Groove’s Jay Leavitt, and I think we recognized the song at the same moment. It was awesome. Here’s a video of Baker doing the song backstage at this year’s Newport Folk Fest.

Julien Baker — “Badlands” (Bruce Springsteen cover) [YouTube]

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Seen/Eaten/Heard

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]

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Covered: Snow

Another new feature for 2016! (I’m just gonna keep saying that, and hopefully one of these will stick.) Let’s pick a bunch of albums to play based on how situationally appropriate the cover art is. The current situation? Snow. A shit-ton of it. Here’s what I’ll be playing to chase away the cabin fever:

The Band — The Band

The Band

Dudes in coats. Levon looks the chilliest. Garth looks the chillest. Danko is challenging Richard Manuel’s signature claim to creepiest, while Robbie is clearly trying to have sex with you. Or maybe just making it known that he’s open to having sex with you. One or the other.

Good point just now from Mrs. YHT: “Levon is the chilliest because he’s the only one from the South.”

The Band — “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Beatles — Help!

The Beatles

More dudes in coats. And the cover shot is from the movie’s skiing scene, which was filmed in the Austrian Alps. Those crazy moptops…

The Beatles — “Help!” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bon Iver — Blood Bank EP

Bon Iver

From which Kayne got the sample for “Lost In The World.” Great EP.

Bon Iver — “Woods” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — Brandenburg Gate: Revisited

Dave Brubeck

Achtung! It’s cold out there!

The Dave Brubeck Quartet — “In Your Own Sweet Way” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jerry Butler — The Ice Man Cometh

Jerry Butler

What’s cooler than being cool?

Jerry Butler — “Only The Strong Survive” [Discogs]

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars

Levon Helm

Levon. Paul Butterfield. Steve Cropper. Booker T. Jones. Dr. John. Duck Dunn. Robbie. Garth. Madonna.

OK, so Madonna’s not really on there. But all those other people are!

Levon Helm & the RCO All-Stars — “Washer Woman” [Discogs]

Joni Mitchell — Hejira

Joni Mitchell

Anyone else invent an alternate universe in which “Coyote” is about Robbie Robertson?

Joni Mitchell — “Coyote” [Spotify/iTunes]

Paul Simon — Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Winner: Dude in a Coat category.

Side note — this may be the record that gets played most often in our house.

Paul Simon — “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” [Spotify/iTunes]

Bruce Springsteen — Nebraska

Bruce Springsteen

Saving this one for when cabin fever is really getting to me and things are looking peak-bleak.

Bruce Springsteen — “Atlantic City” [Spotify/iTunes]

Stephen Stills — Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

This one qualifies twice — there’s snow on the cover, and the first song is “Love The One You’re With,” which is basically the theme song for cabin fever! Love the one you’re with… because leaving the house really isn’t an option right now.

Stephen Stills — “Love The One You’re With” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Michigan

Sufjan Stevens

Some impressive average annual snowfall numbers for Michigan cities. Houghton gets 207.7 inches a year. If you know anyone living in Houghton, Michigan, definitely send them this blog post.

Sufjan Stevens — “Holland” [Spotify/iTunes]

They Might Be Giants — “Don’t Let’s Start” maxi single

They Might Be Giants

Let’s all hope this storm doesn’t get to the point where snowmen gain sentience, kill us all, and start burning our money. Kinda feels like it might tho. Stay warm out there, y’all.

They Might Be Giants — “When It Rains It Snows” [Spotify/iTunes]

 

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Shovels & Rope

I try to avoid comparing bands to other bands, especially in writing, but I will share that in the days leading up to last week’s Friday Cheers, when I was trying to get people at work jazzed up about going, I told of handful of them that Shovels & Rope reminded me of The White Stripes. The two groups sound nothing alike, which makes me feel a little less guilty about broadcasting the comparison here, but they really do have a great deal in common, and I’m not just talking about their even gender distributions and intra-band romantic entanglements. I was mainly thinking about how they stage their songs.

Both bands are (I’m staying in the present tense because I’m unwilling to come to terms with The White Stripes not existing anymore) comprised of just two people, meaning that arrangements are sparse, usually just drums and guitar, both players have to be “on” around 100% of the time, and there’s seldom a bass line gluing songs together. Forgive me for extending the adhesive metaphor, but I actually went around telling people (with performance videos that I’d seen online in the back of my mind) that Shovels & Rope felt duct-taped together in amazing way, and that this was the group’s strength, not a weakness. I’ve overhyped bands before (cue “you can say that again” eye roll), but I really, really wanted my analogy to stick, for the sake of the folks I recommended the band to, sure, but mostly for me.

I tend to fall in love with bands as ideas, and this is a particularly touching one. I love that two married people — Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst — “made something out of nothing from a scratch and a hope,” pulling each other out of that frustrated emotional space creative types inhabit before their talents are sufficiently recognized. And I love the notion that two people can be so effective at the craft of writing and performing songs that they can travel around the country and share their music without a backing band in tow. That’s why, more than most concerts, this one felt like a test. A high-stakes showdown between expectations and reality. Could this couple shoulder the burden that, fairly or unfairly, I’d placed on their shoulders?

Yes they could, and yes they did.

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