NPR Music & Concerts

Music features, reviews and "first listens" from NPR.  Find more music at WUNC's  Back Porch Music.

"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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Don Buchla believed in the humanity of wires. The modular synth pioneer created an instrument like none other, one that relied on intuition, learning and, most importantly, human touch. He died September 14 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 79.

"Everything's cyclical" has become a common refrain in the country music industry of late, a way of acknowledging that country radio's domination by R&B-juiced, summery jams this decade is neither the format's first swing toward popular sounds and sensibilities nor a permanent state. What would follow, some predicted, was a race to the opposite extreme: a hardcore country resurgence.

Just this afternoon, it looked like David Bowie was a shoo-in for this year's Mercury Prize. Even though the prestigious U.K. award had never before been given to an artist posthumously, Blackstar was the final and widely adored album from a British rock god. Even bookies were betting on Bowie as a 4/7 favorite.

When you think of an orchestra, you're probably picturing refined woodwinds, brass, and strings. But one ensemble I recently met is made up mostly of kids who play instruments made out of literal trash. This is the Recycled Orchestra from Cateura, Paraguay, and their group is the subject of a new documentary film.

The On-The-Road Education Of Lucy Dacus

Sep 13, 2016

Lucy Dacus needs another suitcase.

I remember the first time I heard Ramones. It was the first Saturday after its April 23, 1976 release date, back when I was 14 and working weekends at the House of Guitars, Rochester, N.Y.'s greatest and still thriving record store/musical instrument shop/freak magnet.

And so, it ended with, very appropriately, a deathly quiet. "Fabric is closed. That's it. Heartwrenching silence around the room." So read a Tweet by Jeremy Abbott, the digital editor of Mixmag, who was in the room on Tuesday night when the Islington council licensing committee's met to determine whether the London neighborhood would permanently revoke the operating license of fabric, one of the city's longest-running and most iconic clubs.

Nels Cline is unabashed about his love for sound. "I get a kind of fundamental, if not moronic, pleasure from sound as soon as it starts," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Even in sound checks, once we start playing, I'm in the zone. I'm happy, because I like playing."

The Thistle & Shamrock: Kickstarters

Sep 8, 2016

In the 1970s, a handful of globe-trotting bands kicked off the international following for music from Celtic roots. Hear vintage sounds from some of the trailblazers — including The Chieftains, Battlefield Band, Clannad, Boys of the Lough, Planxty, Silly Wizard, De Dannan, Ossian and Tannahill Weavers — and learn how they all combined to feed a growing worldwide interest.

Brian Fallon starts to answer the question.

"It's funny, because..."

He trails off, and then tries again.

"And it... uh..."

He laughs.

Fallon has a solo record out. His band, The Gaslight Anthem, went on hiatus last year, and since then he's fathered a second child.

The question was about how having children changed him and his songwriting.

To older country fans, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are the ultimate examples of superstars who stayed true to their humble roots. Tara Thompson, 28, happens to come from Parton's mountains and Lynn's bloodline. The younger singer, typical of her oversharing generation, translates their down-home pride into tell-all songs.

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