NPR Music

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

Even though the world will eventually come to an end, there's still beauty and hope in all of us and in song. That about sums up the wistful mystery that is the music of Darlingside. The quartet brought dystopian storytelling wrapped in choral harmony with this performance at the Tiny Desk. Their singing is layered on a bed of percussive and melodic tones, made with guitars both acoustic and electric, violin, cello, mandolin and a tiny synthesizer.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Sounds

May 3, 2018

This week Fiona Ritchie handpicks new releases from the musical spring tide that has recently flooded the Thistle offices. Featured are exciting new sounds from "The Musical Nest," a hotbed of learning and creativity on the Islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides.

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GZA & The Soul Rebels: Tiny Desk Concert

May 2, 2018

GZA's performance at the Tiny Desk was a rare appearance for the legendary Wu-Tang Clan emcee, in part because he's notoriously introverted, and because he brought along The Soul Rebels, an eight-piece New Orleans brass ensemble. Once they stepped behind the desk they got right down to business, opening with the sparkling "Living In The World Today," from GZA's 1995 solo album Liquid Swords.

This past fall, when news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal was galvanizing the #MeToo movement, some of us who work in the performing arts had a peculiar experience: Colleagues started asking if they'd sexually harassed us. A few of these colleagues may have been attempting to head off allegations, but many of them genuinely didn't know if they'd crossed a line.

This is as spare as music can be – songs stripped to their essence and just gorgeous. Azniv Korkejian is Bedouine, a singer and acoustic guitarist who echoes sounds from the 1960's North American folk songwriters, but with vocal inflections that feel closer to Leonard Cohen than to Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez.

When I first heard ÌFÉ I was stopped in my tracks. Literally. I pulled the car over and just listened.

I recognized Afro-Cuban drumming and chanting, but it was coming at me with electronic furnishings that made their drums and vocals sound like a futuristic spiritual ceremony.

The Thistle & Shamrock: From Vinyl To MP3

Apr 25, 2018

Hear a handpicked classic collection of recordings with Fiona Ritchie this week. She presents a timeless hour of music spanning the decades, from vinyl masterpieces to pioneering MP3s with artists including Liz Carroll, Gordon Duncan and Alan Stivell.

I went from really loving the music of Superorganism to being a transformed super-fan the moment they sent me an email ahead of their Tiny Desk performance asking, "is it okay if we [bring] inflatable whales when we play?" Now I feel like the kind of fan I was when I wore a yellow radiation suit to a Devo concert in 1978.

Logan Richardson's latest project, Blues People, is a condition, a state of being. The album was derived from the early slave calls that inspired the earliest American jazz and blues musical traditions. Here at the Tiny Desk, the saxophonist revisits that history with four remarkable songs from the album, all performed with a hope that our country's future will be less painful than its past.

When you hear John Moreland's sweet voice, it's hard to believe he spent years singing in punk, metal-core and hardcore bands. You can still hear that passion in his music, only now it's punctuated by his acoustic guitar.

Fifty years ago, Johnny Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in Folsom, Calif. The January 1968 concert and live album it produced, At Folsom Prison, helped revitalize Cash's career, inspiring him to testify for prison reform and cementing his reputation as a voice for the downtrodden.

O.C.: Tiny Desk Concert

Apr 18, 2018

As a member of Brooklyn rap collective Diggin' In The Crates, Omar Credle, aka O.C., helped shape what was known as the golden age of 1990s rap. Marked by loops sourced from jazz recordings and lyrics rooted in one-upmanship, O.C's two '90s albums, Word...Life and Jewelz established him as a rapper's rapper, an underground star.

The Thistle & Shamrock: The Road Of Tears

Apr 18, 2018

Although the scenes of immigration may change, the tragedies of displaced people are replayed with each passing year. Fiona Ritchie's selections this week include traditional broadsheet ballads and music hall choruses from artists like Dolores Keane, Mick Moloney, and Battlefield Band.

Since (at least) the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city in 2012, the singularity of Kendrick Lamar has been plainly evident. But with the Pulitzer Prize in Music for 2018 being given to the Compton rapper for his 2017 album DAMN., his exceptionalism is now officially historic: It's the first time in the prize's history that it has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz community.

After many iterations, hiatuses and returns, The Breeders will always be Kim Deal's band, with her sister Kelley at her side. They return this year to an old lineup, with all the promise (and old wounds) it brings. But you can see a renewed love and goofiness throughout this set — using a roadie as a crash cymbal, or Kim Deal's faux-exasperation at Josephine Wiggs for starting a wind-up toy just before a song.

Jorge Drexler is a poet with a gift for song. The Uruguayan singer-songwriter, like the iconic Latin American lyricists of the past (Mercedes Sosa, Victor Jara and Silvio Rodriguez, to name just a few), has that rare ability to surround multi-layered prose with music that lends an even deeper resonance to the words.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Writing

Apr 12, 2018

Join Fiona Ritchie as she features a wealth of brand new music, including festival commissions and soundtracks. Artists include Gillian Frame, Michael Rooney and The Macalla Orchestra, John Doyle, John McCusker, and Mike McGoldrick.

Yvonne Staples, a member of the renowned soul, gospel and R&B group The Staple Singers, died Tuesday in Chicago at the age of 80, representatives for her sister and band mate Mavis Staples confirmed to NPR Music. No cause was given, and the Staples family has yet to issue a statement.

You're probably used to hearing artists who are eager to set their latest albums apart from their previous work speak of breaking free from formula, the idea being that they've grown dissatisfied with strictures imposed on their music-making. But not everyone shares that philosophy.

Tyler Childers writes songs about hard lives and hard love with direct heart. You meet these characters — some from his own life, some not — and feel like you know them, but there's always another layer to uncover with each listen, carved by his coarse and soulful Kentucky drawl.

Lara Bello occupies the space between genres where magic happens. Born in Spain, she was raised with not only Spanish traditions like flamenco and canto but also pop music and jazz. The instrumentation she assembled for her Tiny Desk reflects that elastic approach to genre: acoustic classical guitar, clarinet, violin and a percussionist who didn't keep time so much as color the proceedings.

Rhye: Tiny Desk Concert

Apr 9, 2018

It seemed only fitting that when Rhye performed the band's Tiny Desk Concert that it be at night, illuminated by flickering light. The music Mike Milosh sings and writes conjures the evening and a swaying, romantic vibe.

When Johnny Cash died almost 15 years ago, he left behind a treasure trove of unpublished poems and handwritten letters. The new album Johnny Cash: Forever Words, out now, immortalizes those words in music.

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