Jewly Hight

Maybelle Carter apparently made a mean chicken gizzard soup, which called for chicken livers, necks and backs, besides the gizzards. Her daughter June Carter Cash published that recipe, along with a host of others, in Mother Maybelle's Cookbook: A Kitchen Visit With America's First Family of Song in 1989, a little over a decade after her mother's passing. Only those who'd had the privilege of being guests in Maybelle's home had witnessed what she could do with soup pots and frying pans in the name of painstaking hospitality.

Up until pretty recently, nostalgia for country music from the particular moment of the early-to-mid 1990s was as likely as not to be expressed with a playfully knowing wink. A few years back, the canny, established hit-maker Dierks Bentley and his touring band cooked up a nutty but clearly affectionate, costumed caricature of '90s country singers and songs and dubbed themselves the Hot Country Knights. Their set lists have included versions of songs by Alan Jackson, Tracy Byrd, Shania Twain and an array of other past hit-makers, but inevitably there's a Brooks & Dunn cover.

From the front, the unassuming Nashville building that's home to Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Studio looks like a place more likely to house drab offices than creative labor. In fact, its proprietor confirms a call center once operated inside its walls before he bought the facility and had tracking and control rooms built to his specifications.

Yola Carter caught the music bug as a small child growing up in a tiny seaside town in southwest England.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.

On the coffee table of his cozy East Nashville apartment, Aaron Lee Tasjan has a notebook open to autobiographical scrawling — it's a kind of cheat sheet to his musical past, which he prepared, with his mother's help, just in case he forgot anything during his interview with NPR. To be fair, it isn't all that simple to retrace his weaving, winding musical path. The singer-songwriter tried out a variety of musical niches, cities and scenes before landing in Nashville.

Few periods of country music history have received more popular attention (or rock press) than the outlaw movement. Decades later, its towering personas — Willie and Waylon chief among them — remain a subject of fascination, immortalized as leathery, long-haired stoners and speed freaks who operated entirely outside the law of the country music establishment. By the time the movement had run its course, it had become a marketing tool for the industry.

You're probably used to hearing artists who are eager to set their latest albums apart from their previous work speak of breaking free from formula, the idea being that they've grown dissatisfied with strictures imposed on their music-making. But not everyone shares that philosophy.

Mary Bragg and Becky Warren are nursing beers and comparing notes on their conscientiousness.

Evolution follows a familiar pattern in plenty of popular music genres. Fearless newcomers or agile established stars with credibility to burn veer from the dominant aesthetic, adopting approaches to music-making that come off as savvy correctives to what everyone's used to hearing. And if what they're doing really begins to catch on, bits and pieces are absorbed into the mainstream, subtly or significantly shifting the genre's center, before something completely different comes along to catch the public's ear.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

No music scene is monolithic, but few encompass the extremes of the bluegrass world. Both musically and ideologically, it runs the gamut from conservatism to progressivism, a range of sensibilities that it's rare to see commingling elsewhere in American society at this polarized moment.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five on The Record with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

For decades now, country's aesthetic and ideological sensibilities have been shaped as much by the music's modern, middle-class suburban appeal as its rural working-class roots, which can make for quite the rhetorical push-and-pull (likely one of many factors that contributed to the Dixie Chicks' famed expulsion from the format over voicing distaste for the second President Bush during a U.K. concert). Working-class political speech hasn't always been recognized as political at all; it's just as likely to be dismissed as class resentment.

Going The Distance

Sep 7, 2017

I first stumbled onto a music festival-sponsored 5K race by accident. On a humid June morning in 2013 at Manchester, Tenn.'s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, I went out for a run, rounded a corner and came upon a group of festival goers safety-pinning paper race numbers to their clothes, very possibly hungover or sleep-deprived , but nonetheless motivated enough to rouse themselves from sleep and run 3.1 miles at 9 am, several hours before the day's first performances were scheduled to start. Glad to have found company, I slipped into the herd just before someone shouted, "Go!"

Many a singer has sung of mustering the strength to overcome hardship; it's the stuff of blustery power ballads, irrepressible empowerment anthems and aggressively aggrieved rock sing-alongs. But it's a simpler thing to narrate that act through lyrics than it is to embody that experience through a vivid performance.

From the sounds of things on the phone, Lizz Wright is going about the business of her daily life while she gives thoughtful responses to her interviewer's questions. There's the ding of a bell as a shop door closes behind her, a whispered "Hi" and, later, the electronic chiming that reminds you to fasten a car's seatbelt.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Nashville has no shortage of country acts gunning for their breakthrough hits, and Charlie Worsham is one of them. But the singer, songwriter and guitarist is hardly your typical country hopeful. The few who heard the album he released four years ago understand that he's the sort of artist who can do it all. As he returns with his second album, Beginning Of Things, he's got everybody in the know in Nashville rooting for him.

One day in late February, the five members of Front Country were warming up for their record release show at the renowned bluegrass club the Station Inn, in their new home base of Nashville, Tenn. They'd never played most of these songs live before.

Late on a Wednesday afternoon at Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley Bar and Grill, Emoni Wilkins, Jason Eskridge and Mike Hicks are trying to tack a bit of last-minute rehearsing onto their sound check for the night's show. They're each slated to perform a solo set, before wrapping up with a collective finale.

"Everything's cyclical" has become a common refrain in the country music industry of late, a way of acknowledging that country radio's domination by R&B-juiced, summery jams this decade is neither the format's first swing toward popular sounds and sensibilities nor a permanent state. What would follow, some predicted, was a race to the opposite extreme: a hardcore country resurgence.

Pages