NPR Music & Concerts

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

The Thistle And Shamrock: The Long View

Sep 14, 2018

If you've been listening to Thistle for some years, perhaps you'll remember two unforgettable extended medleys of tunes; one from Breton harper and multi-instrumentalist Alan Stivell and the other from Irish fiddler Kevin Burke. You'll be delighted to make their re-acquaintance this week.

GoGo Penguin: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 14, 2018

During his setup, GoGo Penguin's pianist Chris Illingworth asked if he could remove our piano cover to "access the inside" and, after a few rotations of a screwdriver, he soon handed me a long plank of black painted maple, which has no convenient place to rest in the NPR Music office. If you look closely at the piano innards during "Bardo," you can see a strip of black tape stretched over a few strings, opposite Illingworth's bobbing head. It mutes a group of strings, turning them into percussive jabs and dividing the instrument into more explicit rhythmic and melodic sections.

Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers accomplished something remarkable this year with their Tiny Desk Contest entry. They made a simple backyard video - a single camera shoot - that's now been seen almost 10 million times on YouTube. And the song they played, "Peach Scone," has unlocked a door to a dream - to play a Tiny Desk Concert and be heard. The song is a tale of one-sided love - a tale of kindness in the face of loneliness and depression.

Stop. Watch. Listen! You might be unfamiliar with Congolese rhythms, likely won't understand the language and won't know the vibe of Kinshasa street musicians, but trust me... Jupiter & Okwess are astonishing. Their fierce energy here at the Tiny Desk translates through familiar instruments of drums, bass and guitars in an astonishing performance.

About a year ago, Ten Flowers, the debut album from Kalbells, came out and brought me a great deal of joy.

When George Li, the 23-year-old American pianist, revealed his Tiny Desk setlist, one thought came to mind: How will these powerhouse showstoppers sound on an upright piano? The music he intended to play, by Franz Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz, was designed for a real, 7-foot concert grand piano – the kind they used to call "a symphony orchestra in a box."

The Thistle & Shamrock: ThistleRadio New

Aug 29, 2018

When the Celtic rhythms go quiet on your radio, you can always stream great songs and tunes through the night and day on ThistleRadio. Hear some of the recently added music from The Unwanted, Luka Bloom and Daygan.

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Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean has been a Thistle favorite for decades. Join us as Fiona Ritchie talks with her old friend about his newest album New Tomorrow.

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

During a career nearly three decades in the making, Tech N9ne has dodged the fickle rap industry while surfing his own wave, stylistically and professionally. The Kansas City native has been a beast for years now, a musical misfit who laid a track record of underground success and struggle before building his own independent empire with Strange Music.

Dermot Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn't content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.'s Howard Gospel Choir. Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

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.

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.

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