NPR Music & Concerts

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

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.

Tiny Desk concerts usually take place in the afternoon.

It might come as a surprise for a 1990s-era hip-hop artist and composer to deliver a sultry set of jazz fusion — one that seems better suited for midnight hours in a smoky club than late afternoon in a newsroom office — but keep in mind, the Tiny Desk itself was a surprise at its inception.

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.

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