NPR Music & Concerts

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

In the age of SoundCloud rap, 19-year-old Demo Taped's rise from unknown Atlanta-bred music prodigy to 300 Entertainment signee isn't all that unusual. That he's ascended from hip-hop's bedrock city to the house that Lyor Cohen built while making something other than hip-hop? That's totally out of the ordinary.

Lookman Adekunle Salami, who writes and records as L.A. Salami, is a storyteller and a poet. His songs are deliberate meanderings on the mundane and the poignancy in everyday life. And in the way Bob Dylan took his guitar and harmonica to accompany his rarely repeating ramblings, L.A Salami embraces a similar aesthetic, albeit as a black Englishman instead of a white Minnesotan.

Two songs into his Tiny Desk concert, Jack Antonoff revealed a bit of stagecraft behind his performances with Bleachers.

When I listened blindly to nearly a thousand songs while attempting to make my schedule of bands to see at this year's SXSW music festival, one of the few tracks that leapt to the top was "Arizona" by Frances Cone. I wasn't alone. NPR Music's Stephen Thompson also singled out this now Brooklyn-based band for the way it wraps its storytelling in a catchy, pop parcel.

In this episode, we remember Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, one of Ireland's most influential artists, with the music he recorded and produced over three decades. Host Fiona Ritchie features legendary Celtic music groups of which Domhnaill was a member — Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Relativity and Nightnoise — along with other recordings featuring the guitarist, producer, composer and singer who contributed to over 100 albums.

"Classic Man," the 2015 debut single from Nigerian-American MC Jidenna, caught everyone off guard. The song found him teetering between rapping and singing about elegance, politeness and Nat "King" Cole, and the melody felt irresistible. Then there's the look: He rocks thrift-wear tailored to a T. The song eventually went double platinum and earned a Grammy nomination. Jidenna followed it with a few more club bangers before releasing his debut album, The Chief, earlier this year. A tribute to his father, a Nigerian chief, the record is peppered with African rhythms and themes.

The intrepid pianist Marc-André Hamelin has a reputation for embracing the toughest, strangest music. His new recording of For Bunita Marcus by Morton Feldman is a fine example. For nearly 75 minutes the music never rises above a whisper and the damper pedal is always pressed down, allowing single notes to ring out into vast, silent spaces.

Don't look for Walter Becker on those endless (ridiculous) listicles ranking the "Guitar Gods of the 1970s." He's rarely mentioned in the same breath as major dudes like Eric Clapton, or Jimmy Page, or Duane Allman, or Carlos Santana, or Billy Gibbons, or Frank Zappa.

Kendrick Scott opened his first set on Tuesday night, at the Jazz Standard in New York City, with a pensive new composition titled "Home." It had a bittersweet melody, a waft of dark harmony, and a beat defined both by chop and flow. "I'm just going to send this out as a meditation for everybody in Houston, Texas right now," said Scott, a drummer, as he introduced the tune.

"Introduce the melancholy / I've felt since last I saw you." — P.M. Dawn, "The Ways of the Wind"

The year was 1993 and Prince Be was everything rap was not supposed to be. While Snoop and Dre were indoctrinating Middle America in the chronic fundamentals of a "G Thang," the P.M. Dawn lead represented a much softer strain. He rhymed about unrequited love with a delicate lilt. He wore silky flowing garments and his dreads in an updo.

Tune into more of the great new sounds, from both sides of the Atlantic, that artists and their record labels are launching during the music festival season. We feature artists including Calan, Matt Tighe and Dougie MaLean.

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

Like many singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell writes music that mirrors developments in his own life. In recent years, that's thankfully included the hard-won contentment he's experienced on his path to 40: sobriety, marriage and on from there.

Three-time Grammy winner DJ Premier, one of the definitive architects of New York hip-hop, brought a new type of life to NPR's Tiny Desk: our first concert helmed by a DJ.

Spotify and other streaming services have begun removing white supremacist content from their platforms, as websites and musicians alike scramble to distance themselves from the white nationalist movement.

In a statement on Wednesday, Spotify blamed the labels and distributors that supply music to its database but said "material that favors hatred or incites violence against race, religion, sexuality or the like is not tolerated by us. Spotify takes immediate action to remove any such material as soon as it has been brought to our attention."

Jo Walker-Meador, one of the most important behind-the-scenes advocates of country music, has died. Walker-Meador, who led the Country Music Association as its executive director from 1962 to 1991, died Tuesday night in Nashville at age 93 after suffering a stroke. Her death was announced by the Country Music Association and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The moment you get a look at ALA.NI behind the Tiny Desk, you'll notice it in the foreground: The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It's a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI's voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

"If you came to this set looking to be cheered up, you're screwed," John Paul White deadpanned from the stage at Newport. The comment drew laughs from the assembled crowd, but there was a wry truth to it: Eerie harmonies and Kelli Jones' fiddle shrouded White's tender songs in a dark, mournful beauty.

"These are my sisters," said Natalie Closner, introducing the song "Wind" during Joseph's Saturday-afternoon set at the Newport Folk Festival. "This is about that."

It's often a sparse crowd that turns up to see an 11 a.m. set at a music festival — but not so at the Newport Folk Festival. When Julia Jacklin took the stage on Saturday morning, she seemed shocked to be faced with a tent full of attentive onlookers. (If it were any other festival, she pointed out, she'd probably be playing to an audience of four — and four hung-over people, at that.)

This week's show features music inspired by the rolling hills and moorland of the border country between Scotland and England, a landscape of forbidding beauty with a turbulent history of feuds, raids and conflict. Hear songs from Archie Fisher, Capercaillie, Kathryn Tickell and more.

Wilco, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2017

Aug 9, 2017

At this stage, it feels like Wilco has headlined nearly every festival — including its own Solid Sound Festival. But the band's sunset Saturday Newport Folk Festival demonstrated why, year after year, Wilco gets top billing: Twenty years in, the Chicago band has staying power without sacrificing a sense of sonic exploration.

Kehlani Parrish's music isn't meant to be a secret.

"Folk festival" is a bit of a misnomer for the current form of the event where Bob Dylan shocked crowds by plugging in five decades ago; the Newport Folk Festival now warmly embraces talent that leans toward the louder, more electrified end of the folk-rock spectrum.

I heard more than one person at Newport marvel at the fact that Pinegrove had been booked for the smallest of the festival's three main stages. The day before its Newport set, the Montclair, N.J., band had played the main stage at the Panorama Music Festival, where headliner Frank Ocean would perform later that day. For a band that still practices in one member's parents' basement, Pinegrove has accumulated a huge, enthusiastic fan base over the year since it released its latest studio album, Cardinal.

Folk music is a genre commonly associated with protest, and the performers at Newport this year lived up to that expectation.

When Fleet Foxes took the stage to close out the first day at Newport, it had been eight years since the band's last performance at the festival. In 2009, the band was picking up steam after releasing its critically venerated self-titled debut, "White Winter Hymnal" was still fresh as new snow in our collective consciousness and then-drummer J.

Maggie Rogers became a viral star on the strength of a video in which Pharrell Williams raves about a demo of what's become her signature song, "Alaska." Since then, Rogers has signed a label deal, toured extensively and released a sweetly approachable, inventively arranged EP called Now That The Light Is Fading.

There's an emblematic photograph of Herbie Hancock on the back cover of his album Sunlight, which he began recording 40 years ago this month. He's depicted against a red backdrop with a Sennheiser vocoder headset on his cranium, which is bowed in deep focus.

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