NPR Music & Concerts

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

Jessie Ware On Learning To Trust Herself

Oct 20, 2014

As a music geek, I often find myself in conversations, either online or over cocktails, about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Indeed, I've been nerding out about the Hall since last Thursday, when the institution announced its shortlist for induction into the Hall Class of 2015. And when I find myself in polite but argumentative company debating the Rock Hall, I have an approach I use.

When he was 20, Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson released an album in Iceland, sung in Icelandic, with many of the words written by his father. Dýrð í dauðaþögn became the biggest-selling debut in Icelandic music history.

I love composer anniversaries because they afford us opportunities to look at musicians anew, and 2015 will mark the centenary of the death of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. It's quite possible that you've never heard of Scriabin, but take comfort in the fact that even his biographer said, "No one was more famous during their lifetime, and few were more quickly ignored after death."

The Metropolitan Opera in New York is bracing for one of the more controversial productions in its history. Since its first performance more than 20 years ago, some critics have charged that composer John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer is anti-Israel, and even anti-Semitic. But the opera's supporters dispute that. They argue that Klinghoffer is a dramatic masterpiece that deserves to make its Met debut on Monday.

In April 2015, Duncan Sheik, a songwriter who has had hits on both pop radio and the Broadway stage, will release Legerdemain, his first album of original material since 2009's Whisper House and the first not connected to a theater piece since 2006's White Limousine. Sheik crafted the album in his Garrison, N.Y. studio, and he's sharing two songs from that album via NPR Music; you can listen and download both of them below.

The Bots' members are brothers and bandmates whose playful, catchy songs rock hard. Singer-guitarist Mikaiah Lei is 21 and drummer Anaiah Lei is 17; they made their first album when they were 15 and 12, respectively. Pink Palms is their newest and best.

Singer Raquel Sofia has spent most of her career 20 feet from stardom as a backup singer for Juanes and Shakira. But these days, she's got her own new album and tour, leading a small band of gifted musicians. Sofia's songs are about matters of the heart — and, as you'll hear in her performance here, it's hard to believe that feeling bad can sound this good. Her music doesn't wallow; instead, it makes me want to celebrate and experience the joy and pain along with her.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Lowlands

Oct 10, 2014

From shipyards and farmlands to mills and mining villages, the Scottish Lowlands have been a hive of activity for centuries. Tour the musical landscape with Archie Fisher, Deaf Shepherd, and Alison Kinnaird.

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

The Pop-Punks Of Anarchy

Oct 9, 2014

The last short story Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote is about being seriously ridiculous. In "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," an intellectual prone to existentialist despair is saved from suicide when, in a vision, he discovers a parallel planet where humanity has never sinned. "It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling," he tells the reader. This contact with Eden reinvigorates him, but then, during a playful moment, he teaches the planet's innocents how to deceive each other — and this leads to a catastrophic, Biblical fall.

My admiration for Jackson Browne began with his first album in 1971. I was wowed by the fact that the singer-songwriter had worked with Nico of Velvet Underground fame — his girlfriend at the time — on her first album, Chelsea Girl. He wrote one of my favorite songs on that record, "These Days."

The Thistle & Shamrock: Canada

Oct 6, 2014

Travel to Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and on into the west to hear the authentic Celtic-rooted music of Canada.

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

The Thistle & Shamrock: Irish Pairs

Oct 6, 2014

Few musical sounds make a more honest and direct statement than duos in the Irish tradition. Enjoy them combining their voices, guitars, fiddles, flutes and more acoustic instruments.

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

Even if you've never been to a jazz concert in your life, it's likely that you've heard Ryan Keberle play trombone. He's toured with Sufjan Stevens, backed up pop stars like Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake, recorded for a Woody Allen film, played in Broadway pits and directed music for a church in Manhattan. Left to his own devices, though, Keberle likes to put himself into improvising situations.

Latino migration in the U.S. has placed people of Afro-Caribbean heritage all over the country. Bio Ritmo's heritage leads directly back to that migration — and to the sound of Fania Records, which fueled Latin dance music's transition from the big-band mambos of the 1950s to the cutting-edge sounds of 1970s New York.

Bio Ritmo moves salsa music even further through stellar musicianship: crisp horn charts; a powerful rhythm section of timbales, congas and bongos; and a piano/bass combo that reminds me of the best groove masters in salsa and Latin jazz.

Roots, Plugged In

Sep 24, 2014

When I put Jonah Tolchin's performance at Third Man Records on my schedule for Americana Fest, the annual gathering of roots-minded musicians that took over Nashville last week, I thought I was going to see a young artist playing old-timey music. Earlier this year, the 22-year-old New Jerseyite released an album, Clover Lane, that gently ranges from countryish ballads to uptempo numbers with a country blues feel.

There's something heartwarming about a family making music together. I'm especially sentimental when I see a father with a son, because my son and I made music in contra dance bands and Irish sessions as he grew up.

Years ago, while interviewing Jeff Tweedy before a Wilco concert, I asked him if he'd made music with his kids. He told me about going to his son Spencer's preschool class and writing a tune with all the kids; "Monkey Mess" was their final creation.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the unsolicited phone books we toss straight into the recycling bin is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on words we'd prefer never to hear associated with music.

Eleanor writes via email: "You've tweeted about your hatred of the word 'songstress.' Writing about music is tricky, but what words do you think should ALWAYS be avoided, and why?"

When The Mountain Goats' founder John Darnielle was a teenager, he went through a self-destructive phase.

"Your intelligence doesn't override your desire to destroy yourself," Darnielle tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I really, really did not want to be in my own skin. I really wanted to get high and stay high."

When you've been in the music business as long as Nick Cave, inevitably someone will want to make a documentary about you. From grainy footage of his early '80s band The Birthday Party to a mid-'90s pop duet with Kylie Minogue that made him an unlikely MTV star, he's a tempting subject.

Luluc: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 15, 2014

I've spent more time listening to Luluc's second album, Passerby, than any other album this year. It's a calming, seemingly effortless affair: a marriage of graceful singing and storytelling, with guitars and textures that help create an unforgettable aura.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Combos

Sep 11, 2014

We revel in the joyous sounds of multi-instrumental line-ups this week, shamelessly embracing anarchy in determining "what-goes-with-what."

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

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