NPR Music & Concerts

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

Now, Now's breakout album, Threads, was not as much about breaking up as holding on. Its songs carried in them a weary recognition of how desire and nostalgia linger in the body and mind, and zoomed in on the brittle filaments that bind together people who have long since declared themselves better off apart.

Considering all the unique monikers MCs have concocted throughout the history of rap, Aminé — Adam Daniel's middle name by birth — isn't all that strange. But that hasn't kept him from becoming the hip-hop artist with the hardest-to-pronounce name of the moment. He's been called everything from anime (as in Japanese animation) to amino (as in the acid).

For decades now, country's aesthetic and ideological sensibilities have been shaped as much by the music's modern, middle-class suburban appeal as its rural working-class roots, which can make for quite the rhetorical push-and-pull (likely one of many factors that contributed to the Dixie Chicks' famed expulsion from the format over voicing distaste for the second President Bush during a U.K. concert). Working-class political speech hasn't always been recognized as political at all; it's just as likely to be dismissed as class resentment.

For Laura Burhenn, 2016 was a tough year and she wasn't alone. We lost David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Prince (and so many more beloved artists).

The Thistle And Shamrock: Seasons Of Mist

Nov 9, 2017

From the Celtic colors of Cape Breton Island to the amber of Highland Perthshire and the stunning autumnal displays of the Appalachian Ridges, we feature music from Maddie Prior, Dougie MacLean and The Critton Hollow String Band.

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

In a career spanning nearly three decades, Ani DiFranco's music has evolved in countless ways, reflecting everything from a major relocation (from New York to New Orleans) to her acquisition of a funky, shimmery backing band. But she's also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.

Wyclef Jean doesn't get his just due. It was only after The Fugees had the world in their collective palms, and then disbanded, when we got to know his unadulterated abilities as a musician — his first solo album The Carnival was a project equal to (if not greater than) his greatest successes with The Fugees. From there, his focus shifted to discovering and producing stars, stretching all genres in his solo mission, and philanthropic work for his homeland of Haiti.

Rhythm is the foundation for many a musical experience. Its driving pulse yields a power that quite often demands movement - a toe to tap, a body to sway. But drummer Nate Smith provides more than just a beat. He intentionally weaves nuanced rhythmic counterpoint in and out of his catchy melodies and dulcet harmonies.

Just try to discern the multiple time signatures in the first tune, "Skip Step" Syncopated yet steady, its rhythmic motifs bolster Jon Cowherd's keyboard riff and the song's melodic statement, played in unison by saxophonist Jaleel Shaw and guitarist Jeremy Most.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Real Hallowe'en

Nov 2, 2017

Host Fiona Ritchie takes you back to the mystical ancient times as she uncovers folklore, legends and eerie tales in ballads old and new. She features original music with her award winning narration of Robert Burns' "Tam o' Shanter" and James Hogg's "The Brownie of the Black Haggs."

On first hearing the Gracie And Rachel song "Only a Child," I was struck by the tension and the mystery, both musically and lyrically: "I'm moving my mouth but I don't say a word/My ears are open but nothing is heard/I'm only a child, only a child."

The Roots Feat. Bilal: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 30, 2017

Can you believe it? Yes, those are The Roots packed behind the Tiny Desk. Black Thought, Questlove and the crew carved out a few hours in their hectic Tonight Show schedule to visit NPR headquarters in Washington D.C. Why travel four hours for a 12-minute concert when you own the late-night airwaves? The answer can be found in the lyrics to The Roots' new song, "It Ain't Fair."

Natalia LaFourcade is a successful singer-songwriter whose voice and music live on the edge of pop, but maintain a distinct independence.

A few years ago, while Lafourcade was traveling Brazil, she felt a great nostalgia for her native Mexico and its folk music. When she finally returned home, she immediately called some friends for the kind of party that is ubiquitous in Latin America: lots of social drinking, lots of food and lots of guitars and singing. Classic folk songs were on the playlist and a good time was had by all.

There can be no more personal or generous a gift from an artist to their fans than to say: Here is the museum of my heart as I prepare to die. Please come in. This room smells like Chanel No 5. It's the scent of all the letters sent by my old flame. That room is an exact replica of my baby's nursery. It's where we performed our old "Bedtime" routine: "I'd get you to your crib, slowly lower you down. Then pull my hands away, as if from a bomb. Then I'd step away, one step at a time, the floors were full of sounds, all the creaks of time." That window looks out at "The Lake," Lake Ontario.

As Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner writes sparkling, opulent dream pop about grief and love (and, occasionally, robots). After releasing its debut album, Psychopomp last year, the band returned with this year's stunning Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Where Psychopomp, written in the immediate aftermath of the death of Zauner's mother, zeroed in on the experience of Zauner's grief, Soft Sounds widens her aperture, featuring paeans to her coping mechanisms, ruminations on crooked relationship dynamics and said sci-fi robot fantasy.

Pop star Justin Timberlake will perform at halftime of the 52nd Super Bowl, it was announced yesterday evening in an excitedly adolescent announcement video Timberlake posted with Jimmy Fallon (below). The game will take place at Minneapolis, Minn.'s U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 4.

"... Only the exalted come in and rock with us."

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces' Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group's metaphysical headspace.

The Thistle And Shamrock: New Fall Sounds

Oct 20, 2017

New music is always in season, but autumn brings with it a special skew in our tastes. So for this episode of The Thistle and Shamrock, host Fiona Ritchie has collected another hour's worth to offer you, including The Breath, Robin Bullock, Ruth Keggin, and James Ritchie.

How 'The Con' Almost Broke Tegan And Sara

Oct 20, 2017

When The Con was released on July 24, 2007, it was a different time for Tegan and Sara. The Canadian duo was five albums in and still on the fringes of the alternative indie rock world. They were cast as outsiders, ridiculed in the press for their gender and/or sexuality, not to mention their haircuts. The stress of it drove a rift between the two of them.

The Perceptionists: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 20, 2017

Mr. Lif and Akrobatik are two emcees whose names rock bells among true hip-hop heads. The duo of Boston natives first teamed up as The Perceptionists in the early aughts to release Black Dialogue on El-P's Def Jux label in 2005. Their side project went into indefinite hiatus soon afterward, but now Lif and Akrobatik are reunited on their new LP, Resolution.

Thundercat, born Stephen Bruner, is willing and able to shape-shift to fit into just about any box you show him — he just won't stay in there for long. Whether fusing his talent for jazz while a bassist with punk legacy act Suicidal Tendencies or as a member of Snoop Dogg's band — maybe running a little too far with a solo here and there — the focus seems to eventually drift his way.

The audience for Hanson's first Tiny Desk concert could be cleanly sorted into two distinct camps: the curious and the committed.

From dance tunes to Gaelic airs, the musical links between old world and new come alive with Scotland's Alasdair Fraser, Cape Breton's Dougie MacDonald, Ireland's Maeve Donnolly and more.

This episode originally aired the week of April 1, 2010.

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

Call it a comeback. After years of absence from the spotlight, Eminem returned to relevance last night with a fierce lyrical condemnation of President Trump.

I think Randy Newman is a national treasure. If he was just a funny guy making music, I'd be OK with that, but his wit is sardonic, satirical and politically on point. Mixing politics and humor with music is usually about the punchline, and his punchlines even make the singer smile.

Randy Newman paints lasting portraits of places and people, all the while poking fun and highlighting injustice, stupidity, power and humanity and he's been doing it for half a century. Here are the opening lines to his recently released song "Putin":

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