NPR Music & Concerts

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

After Camp Cope's second song at the Tiny Desk, singer Georgia "Maq" McDonald let out a tiny laugh. "We've never done this before — we've never been quiet," she said. "Not once in our entire lives!" Bassist Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich joked that it was perhaps a "good lesson" to "rock out in your mind." ("Thinking," Maq clarified.)

"Thank you so much. We never thought we'd be here," exclaimed Brittany Howard following a massive applause from an audience crammed in the Quad Tent to see the Newport Folk Festival debut of Bermuda Triangle.

Yo-Yo Ma opened his recent Tiny Desk concert with the gently rolling "Prelude" from J. S. Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1. It's music Ma has lived with nearly all of his life.

"Believe it or not, this was the very first piece of music I started on the cello when I was four years old," he told the crowd, tightly squeezed between the office furniture on NPR's fourth floor.

Why did Laurence Olivier return so often to Shakespeare's Othello? Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon? Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell – about life, about themselves.

Cattle raids, battles, betrayals and family loyalties are all commemorated in the ballads of the borderlands between Scotland and England, sometimes referred to as "the debatable lands." Join host Fiona Ritchie to explore this rich seam of music and song.

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

Some folks around the NPR Music office said they felt an almost spiritual connection to Erykah Badu during her visit to the Tiny Desk. And that was before she and her band even played a single note. It came from the waft of earthly scents that followed in her wake, to the flowing dreads and clothes that hung on her like robes.

When the 10 members of Tower of Power were in place behind Bob Boilen's desk, strategically positioned around the band's famous five-piece horn section, their first collective blast three beats into the sound check literally made the video crew jump. It was more a force of nature than a sound, and an impressive display of the "five fingers operating as one hand" concept of band cohesiveness.

Nothing felt better — at noon, during the third day of Newport Folk Festival — than standing in the shade of the enormous tent covering the "Quad Stage" and grooving to the globally-influenced funk, jazz, surf and psychedelic stew that is Khruangbin.

DAWN has a breathless enthusiasm for shape-shifting pop music. Her discography is a bedazzled collage of heart-bursting rave and extraterrestrial dance-pop — but for her Tiny Desk, the L.A.-based singer and producer strips three songs to just the essentials, illuminating the impeccable songwriting behind the wild combination of sounds.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Len Graham

Aug 8, 2018

Meet Len Graham, the legendary singer and songwriter from Northern Ireland who carries an equal number of songs and stories in his heart. Fiona Ritchie interviews Len during Traditional Song Week at the Swannanoa Gathering.

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

The family spirit of the Newport Folk Festival is solid in Brandi Carlile's hands. She formed her own musical family with Phil and Tim Hanseroth years ago, and now they all tour together with their wives and children (they even make an appearance on the Newport stage). Stemming out from there, Carlile has fostered a living, breathing collaborative network of artists, walking the walk by showing up early and staying late to perform with her friends.

There was a shift in Mac Miller's boisterous demeanor as he started the third of his three-song Tiny Desk set. It's the first time he's performed tracks from his new album, Swimming, in front of an audience. On "2009," he rubbed his chin with clinched eyes, looking like a young man who's beginning to crack the code. Backed by a piano loop and a string quartet, he reflected on his journey's peaks and valleys thus far.

The Lone Bellow's return to Newport Folk Festival (its third appearance in five years) was a thrilling set to behold. The Nashville-by-way-of-Brooklyn band has grown from its core three members — Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist — to a five piece, further showcasing their powerfully dynamic range.

It's fitting for Haley Heynderickx to be singing at the Tiny Desk. The Portland singer entered our Tiny Desk Contest three years in a row with strong, though often frail songs. And she'd be among the first to tell you how entering that Tiny Desk Contest changed her life.

For all of the bigger names at this year's Newport Folk Festival, it was this under-the-radar quartet from the Boston area that I was most eager to see. Darlingside kicked off the weekend with extraordinary harmonies and a dystopic vision embraced on Extralife, including mushroom clouds, acetylene burns and a future forever trapped in a video game.

In addition to the traditional music you hear on Thistle, there is also an abundance of contemporary songwriting talent. Join us this week to hear singer-songwriters Karine Polwart, Aine Furey, Bert Jansch and Emily Smith.

The Newport Folk Festival's nearly 60-year history is permeated with gospel music; though Moses Sumney uses loop pedals and an electric guitar to animate his work, his voice flows deeply in tune with a spirit and conviction that's recognizably tied to that tradition.

There is a moment, near the top of this Tiny Desk concert — when three voices gather 'round a single microphone to deliver the chorus of "That Ol' Train" — that is so pure and beautiful it made my eyes well up with tears when we filmed it. Not since bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley played the Tiny Desk in 2009 have I felt vocals resonate so deeply.

Newport Folk Festival's setting on Rhode Island's historic Fort Adams offers a panoramic view of the picturesque Narragansett Bay and the Claiborne Pell Bridge. Though a steamy summer fog hung over the Fort Stage hindering visibility as Tiny Desk Contest winner Fantastic Negrito, a.k.a.

Tuck and Patti need no more than each other and a guitar to make magic. Married and making music for nearly 40 years, Tuck Andress and Patti Cathcart perform as one with his masterful guitar playing and her fluid, free vocals.

This Newport Folk Festival set from Lucius, their fifth, is maybe most poignant yet.

Accompanied by members of yMusic, students from the Berklee College of Music on strings and J. Blynn, along with Lucius regulars Jess Wolfe, Holly Laessig, Dan Molad, and Peter Lalish. The group also incorporated choreography into the set, with the dancers known as The Seaweed Sisters.

Flasher are a rock trio where the crafted details of its songs aren't buried by a clear love of noise. But for its visit to the Tiny Desk, this young Washington trio set aside the distortion and worked up a semi-acoustic set of three songs — taken from its debut album, Constant Image, released on Domino in early Junewith vocals made central; voices sometimes in unison, sometimes swapping leads, adding a shifting point of view to songs that, on record, give equal footing to a precise noise.

This weekend, NPR Music will be on the ground at one of our favorite summer events: the Newport Folk Festival. We're looking forward to hearing the brilliant sounds of Courtney Barnett, gospel powerhouse The War and Treaty and the instrumental vibrations of Khruangbin.

Join Fiona Ritchie to uncover the deep roots that run through a family tree of songs from Scotland and Ireland to the Southern Appalachians. The music features Al Petteway, Dolores Keane, and T with the Maggies.

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

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway's voice was crucial for my generation, setting the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

Fifty years ago, a group of six guys walked on a London stage to perform for the first time as The King's Singers. They were choral scholars and graduates from King's College, part of England's venerable Cambridge University.

Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds was in a hotel lobby somewhere in Asia when he first saw a modern version of a player piano. This particular one was tapping out The Beatles' "Yesterday."

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Summer Sounds

Jul 19, 2018

New music is always in season on Thistle! This week it's all about the albums that have been gathering in our North Carolina and Scottish mailboxes just waiting for an hour of your time. Included in this week's show are Dylan Foley, 14-year-old Iona Ritchie, The Bevvy Sisters, and Dougie MacLean.

It's as if the pianos were haunted. Somewhere about midway through this Tiny Desk, as Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds performed on his electronic keyboard, two upright pianos were playing lilting melodies behind him, absent any performer at the keys. And yet these "ghosts," along with Ólafur's band of strings and percussion, put together some of the most beautiful music I've heard at the Tiny Desk, made all the more mysterious through its presentation.

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