NPR Music & Concerts

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

Lara Bello occupies the space between genres where magic happens. Born in Spain, she was raised with not only Spanish traditions like flamenco and canto but also pop music and jazz. The instrumentation she assembled for her Tiny Desk reflects that elastic approach to genre: acoustic classical guitar, clarinet, violin and a percussionist who didn't keep time so much as color the proceedings.

Rhye: Tiny Desk Concert

Apr 9, 2018

It seemed only fitting that when Rhye performed the band's Tiny Desk Concert that it be at night, illuminated by flickering light. The music Mike Milosh sings and writes conjures the evening and a swaying, romantic vibe.

When Johnny Cash died almost 15 years ago, he left behind a treasure trove of unpublished poems and handwritten letters. The new album Johnny Cash: Forever Words, out now, immortalizes those words in music.

Memphis Blues

Apr 4, 2018

Reflecting on today's anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s murder, its 50th, pulls our minds toward images and sounds that surrounded that day in 1968: to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel; to Dr. King's speech in Memphis the day before his assassination. This anniversary has weighed on my mind more than usual, maybe because I've just recently arrived in Washington, D.C., where some of the worst rioting happened in his shooting's aftermath.

On this week's episode, we feature your favorite Celtic artists including Nightnoise, Ossian, Liz Carroll and Moving Hearts, as they create musical impressions and notions of springtime.

The last time Dan Auerbach came to the Tiny Desk he brought a mariachi band (we supplied confetti cannons). That was our 500th performance at the Tiny Desk, with Dan playing alongside his band The Arcs.

The world's most popular music streaming service, Spotify, went public today. Shares were expected to start trading around $130 each, but ranges for the opening price went as high as $169, and at the time of this writing its stocks were trading at $155, making the company worth about $27.4 billion. (You could safely expect these figures to fluctuate widely over the coming hours, days, weeks and months.)

Since Meek Mill returned to prison last fall over violations of his probation stemming from a 2007 firearm and drug arrest, members of the Philadelphia rapper's legal team have repeatedly impugned the credibility of Meek's presiding judge, Philadelphia Judge Genece Brinkley.

"This is me coming back full circle in my life," Dee Dee Bridgewater told NPR right before this Tiny Desk performance. Ever since her teenage years, she's wanted to make her latest album, Memphis... Yes, I'm Ready. Now, a gorgeous 67 years young, Bridgewater is connecting openly with her roots, her birthplace and the town she's loved all her life.

Editor's note on April 2, 2018: You may have figured this out already — this story was an April Fools' joke. It's not real. We hope you enjoyed it.

"Not all pianists are created in equal temperament," Robin Olson told a small but enthusiastic audience behind NPR Music's storied Tiny Desk. The pianist, hailed as an "avant-garde gewandhaus" by Berlin's Staubzeitung, is as celebrated for his cryptic maxims as he is for his inscrutable music.

The Weeknd has (at least partially) returned to his dark side.

On My Dear Melancholy, the Toronto-hailing singer drudges up a heartbreak and attempts to drown it in modulated piano, muffled sirens and foggy synths. As its title implies — note that comma — the songs play out as maudlin 'memos to self' to keep track of all the things he'd wished he said before their downfall.

Masta Ace: Tiny Desk Concert

Mar 30, 2018

An early member of producer Marley Marl's iconic Juice Crew, the Brooklyn-bred Masta Ace emerged shoulder-to-shoulder in the late-'80s with a host of iconic emcees, including Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Craig G and more. When Ace showed up at the Tiny Desk, he brought with him stripped-down versions of the concrete-shaking classics that built his legacy, backed by the impressive Lee Hogans & Pursuance band.

In person, folk musician Haley Heynderickx is shy and soft-spoken. She gets what she calls "sweaty impostor syndrome" when asked to talk about her music. But in performance, the Portland-based artist has the confidence to lay herself bare. Two years ago, she released a promising four-song collection called Fish Eyes that was so unguarded, it was almost uncomfortable to listen to.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Harlaw

Mar 28, 2018

Fiona Ritchie invites you to travel back across six centuries with music historian John Purser. Fiddler Bonnie Rideout and her musical guests perform the ancient music commemorating the legendary events of the Battle of Harlaw in 1411.

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The three singers who perform together as I'm With Her sound like sisters. It's as if they've known each other all their lives and share common roots and musical memories.

As the #MeToo movement ricochets through Hollywood and into other industries, Nashville musicians and legislators alike appear to be coming to terms with the country music industry's role in dealing with sexual harassment.

Jenny and the Mexicats is a discovery from South by Southwest a few years ago that I haven't been able to get out of my mind, and with good reason: The band's high energy shows are unforgettable, as is its sound. Mixing flamenco, originally from southern Spain, with Jenny Ball's jazz trumpet background and a little bit of cumbia has created their one-of-a-kind musical identity.

Recently, I found myself flirting with the clerk at a clothing store. Discovering his interest in the outdoors, I remarked that I'd been reading about a great hike outside L.A., one that promised some spectacular vistas, including a waterfall. Without missing a beat, he responded "Oh, I don't go chasing waterfalls."

In the 1980s, as hip-hop was budding in the streets of New York City, a teenage girl from the Queens projects emerged as one of the genre's first female stars. At 14, Lolita Shanté Gooden, better known as Roxanne Shante, was a fierce, freestyling rap prodigy.

There's an abundance of jubilation and glee in the strums, trills, double stops and drones from the Swedish instrumental band Väsen. The trio came to the Tiny Desk with just three instruments, but all together it was a 30-string sonic blast of 12-string guitar, viola and nyckelharpa (a fiddle with keys — think 15th century keytar).

The Thistle & Shamrock: Singing The Land

Mar 21, 2018

In this program, Fiona Ritchie guides you to some very special landscapes. We feature music from Karine Polwart's award-winning theatrical event "Wind Resistance," originally presented in association with the Edinburgh International Festival. We'll also hear excerpts from fiddler Duncan Chisholm's "Sandwood," named for the finest and least accessible beach in Scotland.

Growing up in the late 1950s and early '60s, Betty Cantor developed an early talent for tinkering. "I used to take things like radios, other little electronic devices if they didn't work, open them up, mess with them, put them back together and they worked," she remembers during a recent phone call. "I could fix watches that wouldn't work for anybody else." Her fascination with how things worked helped her breeze through the available math and science classes at her Martinez, Calif.

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