NPR Music & Concerts

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

There's a confessional quality to the songs of Pinegrove that feels reassuring. The problems that swirl around Evan Stephens Hall's head feel universal, so it's comforting in "Old Friends" when he sings, "I should call my parents when I think of them / I should tell my friends when I love them."

In 1976, the American Folklife Center was created at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Charged with preserving and presenting American folk traditions, its collections and events also embrace cultures from every corner of the globe. In our second program marking the AFC's 40th anniversary, folklorists Nancy Groce and Steve Winick guide us through the life's work of some dedicated individuals who contributed their song collections to the Center's extraordinary archives.

In 1976, the American Folklife Center was created at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Charged with preserving and presenting American folk traditions, its collections and events also embrace cultures from every corner of the globe — and it houses about a half million sound recordings. We join in with the AFC's 40th anniversary celebrations as folklorists Nancy Groce and Steve Winick guide us through some of the Center's remarkable recordings of iconic songs. Hear Part 1 this week, and look out for Part 2 next week.

A Queen Among Kings

Nov 21, 2016

The first time I ever saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform was circa 2002 at the Elbo Room, a tiny venue in San Francisco's Mission District. If you've ever been there, you know the Elbo Room doesn't need many bodies to pack the floor, and with the Dap-Kings crowding the diminutive stage, the full intensity of their act filled the space from practically the first note. I was already familiar with the group through its early records, but hadn't fully appreciated how much power Jones could pack into her stout, 5-foot frame as she sang, sweated, stamped, strutted, slayed.

Classical music observers say we're living in a golden age of string quartets. It's hard to disagree when you hear the vibrant young players in New York's Attacca Quartet.

I wasn't alone in patiently waiting for new music from John Paul White. His singing and songwriting as half of The Civil Wars was heartfelt and beautiful. This summer, a new album finally came, and Beulah was a quietly understated gem. This is tender Southern music without drawl or pretense, and I love it.

Popular music, like every creative form, has produced iconoclasts and idols, whose charisma intersects with the historical moment to carry them into a singular space of greatness. Leonard Cohen was not that kind of star. He was the other kind, arguably more necessary: the companionable genius, compelled by the need to track the muse through the hallways of the everyday, to understand how profane existence can be shot through with profundity.

Adam Torres' voice makes Pearls To Swine a constant listen for me. It's high and lonesome, but more frail than the voices of the bluegrass pioneers who defined that sound, like Ralph Stanley. Besides, Torres isn't a country singer or a folksinger so much as an atmospheric storyteller.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Fall Sounds

Nov 9, 2016

Join host Fiona Ritchie as she uncovers the latest batch of releases, hearing what's new from established artists and emerging talent. This episode features songs from the new album The Lost Songs of St. Kilda, recorded by Trevor Morrison.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Ta-ku & Wafia: Tiny Desk Concert

Nov 7, 2016

The chemistry between Australian singer-producer Ta-ku and his fellow Aussie singer-songwriter Wafia becomes apparent the instant you hear their voices intertwined in song. On their first collaborative EP, (m)edian, they draw on their individual experiences to touch on subjects like compromise in relationships as they trade verses and harmonize over hollow melodies.

Calling themselves "an accidental brass quartet," the members of The Westerlies, like the prevailing winds, blew east to New York from their hometown of Seattle, where they were childhood friends.

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph's sound has grown beyond the Closners' harmonies. Now, you're likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.

Do you believe in ghosts? The age-old question pops up this time of year when Halloween looms — the answer for opera composers seems to be a resounding "yes." Many of them, from Mozart to Corigliano, have given ghosts a few choice moments on stage. Operatic apparitions arrive suddenly in the middle of the night, crash dinner parties or do their ghostly duty simply by playing tricks on the minds of the living.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Sea Sound

Oct 26, 2016

Images and moods of the sea emerge this week from both traditional and new music, including the classical sounds of A Scottish Island, William Jackson's work for fiddles, pipes, woodwind and strings.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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.

Blind Pilot and the Tiny Desk series both launched in the same year, 2008, so it's hard to comprehend how the two hadn't converged until now: The band's shimmery folk-pop sound, with its vibraphone and overarching vibrancy, is perfectly suited to the space behind Bob Boilen's desk.

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