NPR Music & Concerts

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

In music, we can escape the cruelties of the world or face them. There's no wrong way about it, but recently the members of Drive-By Truckers, a band that's long toed the line between a good time and a hard look at life, found they could no longer work purely in metaphor.

Lil Wayne's prison memoir, Gone Til November, is — like his two Sorry 4 The Wait mixtapes — framed as a stopgap offering to quell fan's appetites during an unexpectedly prolonged wait between official projects.

Few in the roots scene had heard of Yola Carter before she made her first appearance at Nashville's Americana Fest in September, which might've suggested that she was some sort of musical rookie. In fact, the 33-year-old black, British singer-songwriter is a seasoned studio and stage pro.

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade, a defining album for both the band and a generation of pop-punk fans. A decade later, NPR's Daoud Tyler-Ameen is still processing what it means to love this record, and what its impact says about the culture around it.

"I am lost, I confess, in the age of the social," Lady Gaga intones in her saddest alto in "Angel Down," the anti-violence anthem that concludes her fifth studio album, Joanne, officially released today. It's a strange disclosure from a pop star whose entire career has seemingly played upon the 21st-century practice of inhabiting constructed online identities to escape reality, earn a lover's affections or scam a path toward success. Gaga crashed the Top 40 in 2008 with The Fame, an examination of the risks and limits of democratized glamor written in cool club bangers.

Even if you don't know his name, you know Vangelis. He won an Academy Award for his original score for Chariots Of Fire, a film remembered as much for its music as anything else. He went on to compose the original scores for Blade Runner and Carl Sagan's PBS series Cosmos. His music has often been described as "spacey," and his new album, Rosetta, uses his trademark synthesizers to tell a real-life story set in outer space.

The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming book on the 1972 soul album Donny Hathaway Live. Best known for songs like "This Christmas" and classic duets with Roberta Flack, Hathaway was a strikingly virtuosic artist committed to exploring "music in its totality." In the decade between his 1970 breakout hit "The Ghetto" and his death at age 33 — an alleged suicide linked to paranoid schizophrenia — he recorded some of the most beautiful, heartfelt and funky music of the late twentieth century.

This spring, The New York Times prefaced the onslaught of festival season by publishing an unusually transparent editorial memo. As music festivals are so plentiful and so often indistinguishable, they would no longer be covering the likes of Coachella and Lollapalooza by default. Instead, their attentions would turn to the smaller, stranger events, the ones that told a unique story.

RDGLDGRN: Tiny Desk Concert

Oct 14, 2016

How do you pronounce RDGLDGRN? Easy, it's just Red Gold Green. Clean and simple, no vowels, no fluff — just like the band's music. Listen and you'll hear a striking mix of rock, hip-hop, funk, go-go and international sounds, fused with energy and humor.

The first time I saw Haley Bonar in concert, she and her band were performing at the base of a 54-foot Doritos vending machine — a dehumanizing corporate venue of the variety that occasionally surfaces at SXSW. Somehow, though, her wry, spiky spark found a way to shine through.

Brian Eno. David Bowie. Kraftwerk. Radiohead. Aphex Twin. The National. These are just some of the contemporary artists and bands who have looked up to American composer Steve Reich.

The Thistle & Shamrock: More New Sounds

Oct 5, 2016

Host Fiona Ritchie handpicks highlights from an impressive crop of new releases by rising and well-established artists. Hear new music by Socks In The Frying Pan, Hamish Napier, Gillian Frame and more.

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Fan fervor is one of the basic building blocks of rock and roll, but it's difficult to recall a rock star as tenderly beloved as is Bruce Springsteen in 2016. There are bigger legends who've evinced louder screams, like the baby boomer Boss's own early inspirations, Elvis and The Beatles.

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.

Fourteen hours ago, Jenny Hval was mashing watermelon and confetti into the compact stage at the Oslo club Vulkan. Now the Norwegian artist is struggling to transition into a more rarified mode. The 36-year-old is hiding from the sticky mid-September sun in her studio in gentrifying Grünerløkka, rehearsing — this weekend she'll form part of a choir backing homegrown superstar Susanne Sundfør at the 8,700-capacity Spektrum arena. "I'm bad at singing in choirs," Hval says, sitting on an old wooden chair and clutching each foot to the opposite hip, knees pointing forward like an arrow.

Neville Marriner, the conductor and violinist who was something of an entrepreneur as well as the guiding spirit behind one of the most successful classical recordings of all time — the soundtrack to the 1984 smash movie Amadeus — died overnight at age 92 at his home in London. His death was announced by the chamber orchestra he founded, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Sounds

Sep 28, 2016

The flow of new music continues through the end of summer into the fall. Sample some recent releases from favorite artists and rising names. Selections include new songs from Iona Fyfe Band, The Bills and Celtic Fiddle Festival.

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I met Isaiah Rashad late this summer, during a stop on the manic press run that comes with the release of a new album. Like most of his fans, I wanted to know where he had been and what to expect from his latest work, The Sun's Tirade. His debut album, Cilvia Demo, dropped in January 2014, and back then I heard an urgent young man from Chattanooga, Tenn., on the hunt for validation through his art.

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.

The political endorsement song is a strange beast. It's something more than just a campaign anthem — the kind of track that pumps up rally audiences before a candidate's entrance onstage. Instead, this kind of tune is an odd hybrid: part commercial jingle, part aspirational anthem and, with nearly no exceptions, a soon-forgotten novelty. (One outlier: the sturdy Whig song "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" from the 1840 presidential campaign, which was most recently resurrected by They Might Be Giants in 2004.)

In 2009, musician and historian Elijah Wald published an overview of American pop from the 1890s to the 1960s he called How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll. The title was a bomb-throwing feint — as Wald told me in an interview, he knew that title would get much more attention than a drier one such as "American Pop From Sousa to Soul" — and as if on cue, one reviewer after another lined up to wave away its thesis.

To the people that knew and played with him, the late guitarist Jack Rose was a towering example of virtuosity and dedication, interweaving ragtime, pre-war blues, raga and American primitivism. When he died of a heart attack in 2009, he left a huge gap in communities worldwide that almost seven years later no other player has been able to fill — as evidenced by a new wave of reissues that cement Rose's visionary status: On Sept.