NPR Music & Concerts

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

Great songs and tunes are always available to stream on ThistleRadio's 24-hour music channel. Span the decades on ThistleRadio with classic tracks from Battlefield Band and the Bothy Band, as well as Mary Jane Lamond, Session A9, Kris Drever, and Calan.

Mumu Fresh sings that the teacher arrives when the student is ready. During a recent trip to the Tiny Desk, she came bearing life lessons from the depths of her soul.

A regal combination of black power and Native American pride, Mumu Fresh — also known by her birth name Maimouna Youssef — is an abundantly gifted singer and emcee who prances between genres and styles. The Baltimore native fuses her rich multi-octave range and ferocious rap delivery with spiritually-inclined lyrics so potent and mindful they precipitated a wellspring of emotion throughout the room.

The horns burst, the voices wail and, as if about to launch into a sermon, this author, activist, intellectual, pastor and singer introduces himself: "My name is Rev. Sekou and these are the Seal Breakers, now they from Brooklyn." He points to his band and continues, "but I was raised in in a little old place called Zent, Arkansas that's got about 11 houses and 35 people, and they'd work from can't-see morning to can't-see night and then they'd make their way to the juke joint.

Harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet has played with Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran ... even Prince. But his biggest fan and supporter is Dave Chappelle, who worked with the Normandy native on Dave Chappelle's Juke Joint, a series of intimate parties featuring Yonnet, his Band With No Name, and an all-star cast of unannounced special guests.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Dear Jean

Jul 4, 2018

Artists celebrate Jean Ritchie (1922-2015) by singing the songs she taught them and by passing along their wisdom. Host Fiona Ritchie explores the reach of Jean's songs and presents music from a commemorative CD featuring Robin and Linda Williams, Peggy Seeger, Kathy Mattea, John McCutcheon and many more artists who were proud to call "The Mother of Folk" their friend.

Staying true to his own musical vision has always come first for PJ Morton. So when he expressed his desire to squeeze a 10-piece string section behind the Tiny Desk for his three-song performance, we were more than happy to oblige him.

Morton showed off the soulful Fender Rhodes chops that helped him earn a mentor in Stevie Wonder and membership to Maroon 5, while backed by percussion, bass and the same Matt Jones Orchestra that accompanies him on his soulful solo releases, Gumbo and Gumbo Unplugged.

It was a late night at an unfamiliar club in Austin, Texas when the spirit, sound, lights and costumes of the Golden Dawn Arkestra put a huge, dreamy smile on my face. It took more than three years to get ten of the players and performers in this band (there are often even more) to my desk. I tried to transform the bright daylight of the NPR office with some of my handy, previously used holiday laser lights. But honestly, it wasn't until their psychedelic jazz kicked in that the office transformation felt real.

At the end of 2017's More Life, Drake mulled over the idea of staying mum in order to protect his creative process. "Maybe gettin' back to regular life will humble me / I'll be back in 2018 with the summary," he calmly mused on "Do Not Disturb." Now, music fans have once again found themselves amidst the summer Nor'easter of a Drake album rollout. After dropping No.

Hear the music and learn about the short life of an 18th century poet who wrote in the style of Robert Burns and composed well-loved songs that are still widely sung today. Artists featured include Dougie MacLean, The Tannahill Weavers, and Emily Smith.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Rakim: Tiny Desk Concert

Jun 25, 2018

Friends, a lot happened over the weekend. On Friday, Luis Fonsi proved once again that he can get millions of views with a well-drawled ayyyyy on any given beach in Puerto Rico; this time, he got an unexpected assist from U.K. grime star Stefflon Don. On Saturday, Daddy Yankee recruited the recently reunited old-school duo R.K.M. and Ken-Y for another go at it, now that reggaeton seems to (finally) be having its mainstream moment.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Combos

Jun 20, 2018

What goes with what? When it comes to Celtic music combos, almost anything goes, as long as it sounds good. So you be the judge when host Fiona Ritchie revels in the joyous sounds of multi-instrumental line-ups this week.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It was Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day when this somewhat loud and sometimes frenetic band came to play at my desk. I couldn't help but wonder if The Messthetics would inspire some eight-year old child in the office to one day become a musician, one who'd go on tell the tale of seeing these D.C. legends at an office when they were a kid.

On Saturday, one of the highest-profile and most scrutinized marriages in pop music became an official collaboration with the surprise release of Jay-Z and Beyoncé's album Everything Is Love, credited to The Carters, alongside a video for the album's first single, shot in the Louvre. The album had been rumored since the release of Beyoncé's 2016 album Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44, both of which addressed fault lines in the artists' marriage, and in a summer of major hip-hop albums, this instantly marked a new high-water mark.

Before Khalid performed "Location," his debut single that's now four-times platinum, at the Tiny Desk, he told the audience the story of how he wrote the track during his senior year of high school not knowing where music would take him. (FYI: He graduated in the Class of 2016.

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba's fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

GoldLink is a man of the people. As a D.C. native, the skinny, stylish rapper acted as if his Tiny Desk performance was a family reunion and took the opportunity to invite everybody and their cousin in as his guests.

Danny Kirwan, the guitarist who joined Fleetwood Mac at age 18 and played on five of the band's albums, died Friday in London at age 68. His death was announced by Mick Fleetwood on the group's Facebook page; no cause was given.

New York's Village Vanguard may come closer than any other club to embodying the spirit of jazz. For nearly 30 years, the guardian of that spirit has been the Vanguard's formidable impresaria, Lorraine Gordon. Gordon, a jazz champion since her teen years and one of the music's female pioneers, died Saturday at the age of 95.

We had wanted to get MILCK (aka Connie Lim) to the Tiny Desk ever since she captured the hearts of so many by performing her song "Quiet" during the Women's March On Washington last year. Before the concert, we talked a lot with her and her production team about how to best share her deeply affecting, anthemic pop songs. Should we have a choir? Maybe a string quartet?

Hear music from the acclaimed National Theatre of Scotland production The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart, that celebrates traditional poetry, storytelling and music woven through a supernatural tale. Fiona Ritchie gets to the heart of the tale and explores the music that moves it along, inspired by Border Ballads and Robert Burns.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my "accidental concert experience," I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America's Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

Daniel Caesar and his band had a clear vision for their Tiny Desk performance. While already confined to a small space, they opted to congregate at the piano, where producer and music director Matthew Burnett sat to create what feels like a fly-on-the-wall moment. We're presented a purity that's nearly impossible to capture on an album.

On Friday, June 1, Kanye West released his eighth studio album, titled ye, after revealing it during a live-streamed event held at a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Later that day, two of NPR Music's critics, Rodney Carmichael and Ann Powers, discussed what they heard in the album's seven songs, and whether they could separate the music from the mania that surrounds it.


Rodney Carmichael: This is going to be the most polarizing album of the year. That's my one-sentence review. Of course, we already knew that, right?

Pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill was born into Afro-Cuban jazz royalty but growing up he rejected his famous musical heritage. Now, he travels the world sharing his late father Chico O'Farrill's legacy as a principal architect of the mash up of jazz and Afro-Cuban music in the late 1940s.

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