Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

The Luck Mansion sessions was one of the coolest things at AmericanaFest 2016. In the parlor of an old mansion in East Nashville, the label Third Man Records and the mansion's hosts, the organization Luck Reunion, paired musicians together to record a song. But it was more social and way more laid-back than just that, with time and space for musicians to hang out, jam, talk, drink and eat together while figuring out what they would commit to tape. Some of the pairs, like John Paul White and Rodney Crowell, wrote an original tune.

We've never done a Tiny Desk Concert that wasn't behind my desk at NPR. But when the White House called and said they were putting on an event called South by South Lawn, a day-long festival filled with innovators and creators from the worlds of technology and art, including music, we jumped at the chance to get involved. We chose Common as the performer and the White House library as the space.

This past week I was at the 17th annual Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville, listening to and having conversations with musicians. One songwriter and singer I've admired from the world of Americana during this decade is John Paul White, whom you may know as a former member of the duo The Civil Wars.

They came, they measured, and they returned to perform a show like no other. It was the great NPR Tiny Desk Takeover by Blue Man Group.

If you've not seen this performance ensemble and their production in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago or Berlin, then you've missed a night of magical fun. These Blue Men may never say a word, but the performances make for poignant looks at who we are as humans. They also make unusual music on instruments of their own design.

For the past 25 years I've had this notion that on every successive Leonard Cohen record his voice would get deeper and deeper until one day he'd put out an album so subsonic that you'd just feel it, not hear it. Well, we're close. On this day, Leonard Cohen's 82nd birthday, he's given us a gift: It's dark, it's beautiful and it's deep. "You Want It Darker" is the title track to his soon-to-be-released album, his 14th studio album in his 49-year recording career. The album of nine songs, out Oct. 21, is produced by his son, musician Adam Cohen.

It's been six years since Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae released her second album, The Sea, so this Tiny Desk concert feels like both a re-introduction and a welcome back.

In terms of sheer intensity, Saul Williams' Tiny Desk concert may be the most potent in our eight-year history. Only Kate Tempest comes to mind as its equal, which makes sense given that both mix music with bracing, truthful poetry. In Williams' opening song — "Burundi," from his album MartyrLoserKing — the main character is a computer hacker who lives in Burundi and fights for democracy:

The power of Big Thief lies in the stunning voice of Adrianne Lenker — as well as the band's intense rhythms, the guitar playing of Buck Meek and, right, the lyrics. Come to think of it, everything this band does serves the muscular warmth of these brilliant songs, which are not only memorable, but meaningful.

There's brutal honesty in the songs of Margaret Glaspy that can make them feel cold, but they're also heartfelt. That's part of what makes Glaspy a top new artist of 2016 for many of the writers here at NPR Music.

The music of Kevin Morby is fairly straightforward and acoustic for the most part, with traditional, folk-based rock at its core. The mystery and intensity lies in the lyrics. His biting song "I Have Been To The Mountain," performed here at the Tiny Desk and on his 2016 album Singing Saw, was inspired by the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York City police officer.

That man lived in this town

Till that pig took him down

And have you heard the sound

For Lucy Dacus, a 21-year-old with a warm and deep voice, singing comes as naturally as talking. As an adopted child in Richmond, Va., she was raised by a piano-playing mother; now, she writes songs that can be thoughtful, playful and powerful, with tremendous arrangements from guitarist Jacob Blizard.

Listening to John Congleton can be scary. The imagery — of "blood between my legs," of loving another "like a lion loves its kill" — can be horrifying. But the songs Congleton sings (from his album Until The Horror Goes) touch on what it means to be human, and what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood "temporary custodians" in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.

Gregory Porter's healing soul music sends a message of compassion, and he's got a baritone voice that resonates love. When Porter visited NPR, we'd just learned that our colleague, photojournalist David Gilkey, had been killed while working on a story for NPR in Afghanistan. When Porter began singing the calmly beautiful "No Love Dying," he may not have known how much it would mean to us.

At first it was simply the voice that shook me. I was in Austin, Texas, during SXSW, and my buddy Sean Moeller of Daytrotter told me he was recording a new favorite band and I should come by. The house/makeshift studio on Austin's East Side was saturated with the alluring voice of Natalie Carol and her solid yet rattling Neil Young-ish band. That was my introduction to Valley Queen, and I've seen them shake the walls at a few venues around the country now, one of which was here at NPR.

At first, I was drawn in by Adia Victoria's languid guitar sound: In her hands, it practically has a drawl of its own. Then I heard her stories — never trite, often personal, always potent — which you can hear in the words that open her Tiny Desk concert. "I don't know nothing 'bout Southern belles," she sings in "Stuck In The South," adding, "but I can tell you something 'bout Southern hell."

There's something nearly unhinged about Weaves' music. Some of that is in the frenetic guitar of Morgan Waters and the way it contrasts with the swaying-in-the-breeze feel of singer Jasmyn Burke. But then it can all turn upside-down in a hurry — the guitar becomes almost lyrical as Burke sings:

A portion of popcorn that's popping and shopping for fresh hands

Distortion is motion that's ridden forbidden

Don't you dare, don't you dare

You're so coo coo I'm so coo coo

It's been a joy to hear the music of Andrew Bird shift and change. Bird's early music, from the late '90s, was steeped in hot jazz and blues music from the early days of the phonograph, then later shifted to new technologies using loop pedals to layer voice, whistling and violin. His lyrics often have a calculated quality, filled with abundant wordplay and observations.

When you hear Monika, life feels good: The singer's performances and presence are simply winning. Last fall, I saw her take a hands-in-pockets crowd in New York and turn it into a bunch of dancing, hand-waving fans. Here at the Tiny Desk, the office was singing along as the ebullient singer danced on my desk. She's a platinum-selling singer-songwriter back in Greece, and her most recent album, Secret In The Dark, is full of spunk and funk. The album was produced by the great Homer Steinweiss, whom you may know as the drummer for the soulful R&B band The Dap-Kings.

In Florist, Emily Sprague and fellow Catskills friends sing quiet, delicate songs filled with vivid memories. "Vacation" is about growing up and learning about love.

Like when I used to ride roller coasters with my dad

When a swimming pool in a hotel

Was a gift from God

Like, love, we're like a family

I don't know how to be

"Cool And Refreshing" finds Sprague singing about the childhood memories that we lose one by one.

I could walk by Peter Frampton on the street and not recognize him. His long blond hair, which shines like a halo on his album Frampton Comes Alive! may be gone, but as soon as he sat behind the Tiny Desk and began singing, 1976 came rushing back. I worked in a record store the year Frampton Comes Alive! came out, and it was one of those records that seemed to have universal appeal. We sold a ton of copies of that double live album and I can still remember the label and number (A&M 3703) from having written it on countless sales tickets.

Right near the top of this performance, Benjamin Clementine looks toward the camera with an intense stare and sings, "Where I'm from, you see the rain / Before the rain even starts to rain." At that point, when I'm already hanging on every word, I feel like I'm witnessing an almost otherworldly presence — a visitor with wisdom to impart.

Seratones singer-guitarist A.J. Haynes takes gospel into the garage, and what comes out is fiery rock 'n' roll. The Shreveport, La., band is a joy to see and hear, and this Tiny Desk concert provides a fiery peek at what you'll soon hear on the group's debut album, Get Gone.

While Kristine Leschper was singing her songs behind my desk, in the crowd was a tiny baby in a stroller. As I watched the child and the band, I couldn't help but think about both the promise and innocence of youth and the struggles of adulthood, as Leschper sang:

We lived unloved in unmade beds

You wore me like a necklace

You closed me like a locket

It took only a few power chords, a sprinkle of glitter and the occasional jokey line — "We can do our makeup in the parking lot / We can get so famous that I might get shot / But right now I'm in the shower" — to forever hook me on PWR BTTM. The queer, glammy, wildly dressed duo has a keen sense of mischief and a real gift for honest, punk-infused, tongue-in-cheek pop gems.