NPR Music

Music features, reviews and "first listens" from NPR.  For WUNC's music programs,  Back Porch Music.

David Bowie had long wanted to make a record with a jazz band, and on Jan. 8 of last year, he realized his dream with the release of Blackstar. Two days later, he was gone. Donny McCaslin's band helped him make that record, and now, a year later, we pay tribute to Bowie and Blackstar by bringing McCaslin's band to the Tiny Desk.

From the pubs and clubs of home to international festival stages, some great live performances electrify this hour as we turn the page on yet another music-filled year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It'd be easy to look and listen to this young English singer and think he's just another sensitive songwriter with a guitar, singing about his troubles. But Declan McKenna writes about a much bigger world than you or I might expect from a singer who only recently turned 18. He came to NPR this past summer, a bit nervous but passionate. He stripped down three of his songs to their musical essence, and the power of their words eclipsed the hooks for which they're equally known.

George Michael: A Father Figure For Political Pop

Dec 27, 2016

Return To Daddy

Dec 22, 2016

If there was one moment in Houston on Saturday night that brought meaning and context to Aphex Twin's first U.S. performance in eight years, it was when the storm arrived, about 30 minutes in.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Midwinter Music

Dec 21, 2016

Travel into the magical traditions of midwinter through some spellbinding music of the season. This week, hear music from Phil Cunningham, California Revels and Cherish The Ladies.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It seemed only fitting for us to have a nine-piece, family-centered band come back to the Tiny Desk to help us celebrate the holidays in 2016. Maggie and Tyler Heath head up The Oh Hellos vocally, but this band — which played a non-holiday show at the desk just a year ago — feels very much like an extended family, in terms of both camaraderie and harmonies.

You probably shouldn't be reading this — just listen to Derek Gripper play and watch his fingers work. You can see and hear his classical training from his first notes behind the Tiny Desk.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Winter Gifts

Dec 15, 2016

Host Fiona Ritchie shares some new releases that may help you resolve your holiday shopping challenges.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Appetite For Dysfunction

Dec 13, 2016

America loves a hot mess. Added by Oxford Dictionaries in August 2014, that phrase connotes "a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination." The roots of hot mess attraction in popular music go as far back as the blues. We love transmissions from and about our shadow sides — secret pains, forbidden longings, destructive urges kept barely in check. Consider classic rock cyclones like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, who combined exceptional talent and all-too-human emotion.

Gucci Mane's smile makes you feel like there's still some good in the world. He's really earned it, and that thing is infectious.

When singer Alsarah left her native Sudan, she was just a child who'd shown an interest in music. She's said it served as her coping mechanism during a subsequent transition to life here in the U.S. That passion led her to a university degree in ethnomusicology.

The Thistle & Shamrock: The Singing Kettle

Dec 7, 2016

As we enter the festive season, many parties, concerts and carol-singing events are geared toward children, for whom this time of year is especially magical. Host Fiona Ritchie reaches back into the archives to remember her visit with children's entertainers Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise, who performed for many years as "The Singing Kettle." Their shows often evoked the playful traditions of pantomime, which are so popular in the U.K. at this time of year.

Lots of us try to be cool, but the trick has always been in the subtleties; they're what allow us to walk that thin line between cool and corny. Enter Ro James.

There's a confessional quality to the songs of Pinegrove that feels reassuring. The problems that swirl around Evan Stephens Hall's head feel universal, so it's comforting in "Old Friends" when he sings, "I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them."

In 1976, the American Folklife Center was created at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Charged with preserving and presenting American folk traditions, its collections and events also embrace cultures from every corner of the globe. In our second program marking the AFC's 40th anniversary, folklorists Nancy Groce and Steve Winick guide us through the life's work of some dedicated individuals who contributed their song collections to the Center's extraordinary archives.

In 1976, the American Folklife Center was created at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Charged with preserving and presenting American folk traditions, its collections and events also embrace cultures from every corner of the globe — and it houses about a half million sound recordings. We join in with the AFC's 40th anniversary celebrations as folklorists Nancy Groce and Steve Winick guide us through some of the Center's remarkable recordings of iconic songs. Hear Part 1 this week, and look out for Part 2 next week.

A Queen Among Kings

Nov 21, 2016

The first time I ever saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform was circa 2002 at the Elbo Room, a tiny venue in San Francisco's Mission District. If you've ever been there, you know the Elbo Room doesn't need many bodies to pack the floor, and with the Dap-Kings crowding the diminutive stage, the full intensity of their act filled the space from practically the first note. I was already familiar with the group through its early records, but hadn't fully appreciated how much power Jones could pack into her stout, 5-foot frame as she sang, sweated, stamped, strutted, slayed.

Classical music observers say we're living in a golden age of string quartets. It's hard to disagree when you hear the vibrant young players in New York's Attacca Quartet.

I wasn't alone in patiently waiting for new music from John Paul White. His singing and songwriting as half of The Civil Wars was heartfelt and beautiful. This summer, a new album finally came, and Beulah was a quietly understated gem. This is tender Southern music without drawl or pretense, and I love it.

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