NPR Music & Concerts

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

Sometime years from now I may be asked: What was your favorite day at NPR? I am likely to say it's the day Dan Deacon got the NPR staff worked up into a giant dance party! It's also the day Deacon and staff wheeled in an upright piano and connected it to his computer — a magical mix of old player piano and electronic avant-garde.

On this episode of The Thistle & Shamrock, host Fiona Ritchie handpicks more of the best new music from rising artists, as well as the latest from musicians whose work has shaped the sound of the show through the decades.

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

With her huge voice and an assist from talented trombonist Daniel Walter Eaton, Zola Jesus presented a curious combination at the Tiny Desk — a combination I hardly ever encounter. Having seen her mostly with a big and powerful band, I wondered if this configuration would work. But it was magic, with the trombone poignantly complementing her mellifluous voice and stark personal words.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Love Songs

Feb 18, 2015

We've heard a lot about romantic love recently. Now, hear of a bond with landscape, language and the natural world, all in the finest Celtic-rooted music.

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

Hear how two musicians, raised more than 4,000 miles apart, share a deep musical connection. Flutist and singer Nuala Kennedy is from the east coast of Ireland. Her husband, singer-songwriter A.J. Roach, was raised in southwestern Virginia. Kennedy grew up with Ulster ballads and tunes that were carried across the ocean to take root in the mountains and hollows of Roach's homeland. On this episode of The Thistle & Shamrock, the two chat with host Fiona Ritchie and share some music.

The beauty of the Tiny Desk lies, at least partially, in the limitations of size and technology. We rarely amplify voices, for example, so for a band like Until The Ribbon Breaks, the challenge becomes how to take a loud electronic sound down to a volume where singer Pete Lawrie-Winfield can be heard. In this case, the solution involved a spaghetti strainer, a paint bucket and an acoustic guitar.

We were all here before. Rising up out of the subway onto 125th Street, it strikes me that I should come uptown to Harlem more often. The Popeye's on 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue is still there, offering the same crispy bird parts and sodium-heavy buttermilk biscuits; it's still the same bustling, up-til-3-a.m. refuge it always was. Vendors still hawk street literature, pamphlets and incense sticks on fold-up tables that line the sidewalks. It could just as easily be 1995. That's when I was restless and unsettled.

When I first imagined Mucca Pazza at the Tiny Desk, I honestly had no idea how the Chicago band's 23 members would fit in — in the literal sense of the term. To load-test this performance, we actually gathered a gaggle of interns behind my desk and began to stack people on cabinets, step-stools and, of course, desks.

Sam Smith, the British singer whose debut album, In the Lonely Hour, was one of only two albums released in 2014 to go platinum, won four Grammys, including Record and Song of the Year, as well as Best New Artist.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Songs Of The Bard

Feb 7, 2015

Hear a variety of artists in the intoxicating thrall of the songs — timeless and thriving — of Robert Burns, Scotland's National Bard.

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

Music critics these days love to argue about "rockism," the unexamined prejudices we bring to our musical judgements, and "poptimism," an effort to celebrate commercial stuff that some think goes way too far. My book, Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music, aims to get us out of that endless back and forth by focusing on the key place songs become pop: radio, which, beginning on AM with Top 40 in the 1950s and then moving to FM in the 1970s, gave music its deepest connection to Americans. Radio made new tunes and styles familiar, perennial, memories.

The Grammy Awards, that moment when the music industry turns its collective eyes toward a single stage and pats itself on the back, will be presented on Sunday night. Musicians up for Album of the Year include Beck, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Muir Of Gormack

Feb 3, 2015

The wilderness area known as the Muir Of Gormack was first mentioned in 1776 by scholars who labeled it a "Caledonian Camp" for its prehistoric remains of hut-circles, cairns and decorated stones. On this episode of The Thistle & Shamrock, Dougie MacLean evokes the setting and imagines the ancient culture in "Muir Of Gormack: A Pictish story."

It might be easy to dismiss a music project from actor John Reilly, but that would be a huge mistake: Reilly is a fine singer, especially when he gets a hold of old-time material, and his guitar work provides a perfect foundation for these church and porch tunes from America's past.

Unfinished Business

Feb 3, 2015

One thing you can say for the improbable return of Olympia punk deities Sleater-Kinney: By the standards of a Greatest Indie Rock Band of Their Generation, it's off to a rousing start. Not just with critics and fans, but possibly also with people who've never bought a Sleater-Kinney album before.

Pop's New Old Sound: Retro Without Rules

Jan 29, 2015

A Rational Conversation With ASAP Yams

Jan 28, 2015

I was in Nashville, standing in line at a food/music festival, when this guy behind me hears my voice, recognizes me and says, "Hey, Bob Boilen! Bobby Bare Jr. here. I've been hoping to play your desk." Truth be told, I'd been hoping to make that happen, too. And so the deal was sealed over a pork bun. Thirty minutes later, at the same festival, Bare was on stage with his dad, the country legend Bobby Bare Sr., and Kings Of Leon. That's Nashville for you.

They're celebrating Down Under. Today is Australia Day, a holiday marking the arrival of British ships at Sydney Harbour in 1788. A perfect day then to salute something truly Australian, something that speaks of national pride, austere landscapes and even the darker side of Australian history — the music of Peter Sculthorpe, who died last year at age 85.

What the Icelandic art star Bjork has accomplished at the intersection of pop and the avant-garde cannot be summed up in one detail, but one thing to focus on is the way she sings the word "emotional." Climbing it like one of the cliffs she often evokes in her pastoral lyrics, she lets it open up like a vista on its central, circulatory "o." The word becomes a Valkyrie's cry, a statement of purpose both sacred and humanly thrilling.

In a raucous and revealing panel discussion at New York City's Ace Hotel, the stars and creators of Comedy Central's Broad City interviewed all three members of the newly reunited rock band Sleater-Kinney Friday night.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Year Sounds

Jan 20, 2015

Prepare your way for the year ahead with a fresh musical start and a chance to discover artists whose careers are destined to gather momentum in the coming months.

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

Before Rubblebucket played its Tiny Desk Concert, its members asked if they could bring a confetti cannon. And, though I said no — dear coworkers, I really do care about you — the band still brought a fun mix of brass and brash to the Tiny Desk.

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