NPR Music & Concerts

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

There is an intensity to Rhiannon Giddens I could feel from the moment she arrived at the Tiny Desk, and her songs reflect that spirit. "Ten Thousand Voices," the first song in the set, was inspired by Rhiannon reading about the sub-Saharan slave trade.

Sixteen performers from the Broadway production of Come From Away recently climbed out of a chartered bus in front of NPR and crammed behind Bob Boilen's desk. They condensed their nearly two-hour show about the days following 9/11 into a relatively tiny 17 minutes. By the end of the diminutive set, there were more than a few tears shed.

Where were you on Sep. 11, 2001? Anyone who is old enough to remember can probably answer that question. Perhaps that's why the stories told in the Broadway musical Come From Away are so relatable.

There was a distinct feeling of history in the air when Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley took his place in our office with his band, and it wasn't just the legend behind his surname. For fifteen minutes, we were treated to the same socially relevant reggae that his father, legendary Jamaican reggae icon Bob Marley, made popular when he put the genre on the international music map.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Debuts

Sep 6, 2019

Hear musicians from both sides of the Atlantic making their first appearances on our show. Artists include Beth Malcolm, a new duo for Tony McManus and a welcomed return from a band last aired in the days of vinyl.

Hear the haunting melodies from St. Kilda that offer a last link to the "island on the edge of the world," featuring arrangements by composers including Sir James MacMillan with singer Julie Fowlis and additional music from Barrule.

It's 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth's Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos. Tiny Desk Concerts were in their infancy in 2009; we had recorded only about 25 by the time he visited my desk.

A-WA: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 3, 2019

The last time we filmed these three Israeli sisters, they were sitting in my hotel room during South by Southwest, performing a heartbreaking lullaby, accompanied by just a guitarist. Now Liron, Tagel and Tair Haim are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.

"It's kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out," The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR. Even more than the mega-hits he's written for the likes of Beyoncé ("Single Ladies") and Rihanna ("Umbrella"), the self-styled radio killa's early solo oeuvre — known as the Love trio — helped cement the songwriter's saucy way with words.

We remember Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, one of Ireland's most influential artists, with the music he recorded and produced over three decades.

Dan Tepfer has transformed the acoustic piano entirely with his new project, Natural Machines. Watch the keys and you'll see this Disklavier — a player piano — plucking notes on its own. But it's not a prerecorded script.

When the Celtic rhythms go quiet on your radio, you can always stream great songs and tunes on ThistleRadio's 24-hour music channel. Span the decades with classic tracks that are the bedrock of the playlist, together with some of the newer artist who are helping redefine the sound of today's music from Celtic roots.

"Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?" asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz made everything seem so easy, pulling a few acoustic instruments out of their car and, in no time, huddling around a single microphone behind the Tiny Desk. With that, Mandolin Orange was ready.

Emily bowed her fiddle while Andrew strummed a guitar and sang about his mom being carried away in a hearse. "Golden Embers" is the lead-off track to Mandolin Orange's 2019 album Tides of a Teardrop. This song shines a light on the darkness that fell on Andrew's family when he was 18.

Nicole Bus: Tiny Desk Concert

Aug 21, 2019

Emerging artist Nicole Bus, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, had an immediate presence about her — a glow that radiated from all 6'1" of her as she sauntered into the Tiny Desk area. She beamed a smile so infectious that her energy and aura were immediately felt. And this was before she graced us with her sultry voice.

Before launching into her performance, Nicole shared how meaningful this moment was and that playing at the tiny desk was a vision board aspiration she willfully manifested.

Tobe Nwigwe: Tiny Desk Concert

Aug 19, 2019

Hailing from the southwest region of Houston and of Nigerian descent, Tobe Nwigwe made his Tiny Desk debut a family affair, with an entourage that included his seven-week old daughter. The baby was in the arms of Tobe's wife, Fat, known for her striking beauty and lead role in the magnificently directed music videos that have paved the way to Tobe's rapid growth on Instagram.

It's not every day someone walks into our NPR Music offices and unpacks an instrument made in 1680. And yet Kian Soltani, the 27-year-old cellist who plays with the authority and poetry of someone twice his age, isn't exactly fazed by his rare Giovanni Grancino cello, which produces large, luminous tones. (He also plays a Stradivarius.)

And if you think the notion of a cello recital isn't exactly sexy or thrilling, just take a look at Soltani; he radiates joy and ingenuity as he performs three pieces that offer virtuosity, sweet lyricism and fire.

Well before arriving for this performance, the three guys in half•alive asked for the exact dimensions of the space behind Bob Boilen's desk. Known for their live shows, with elaborate, synchronized dancing and costume changes, the group naturally wondered how they'd pull everything off in such a cozy space.

When Among Authors arrived at NPR, the Seattle band seemed like a pack of eager pups — and with good reason. The odds of this unsigned, self-managed quartet playing a Tiny Desk concert was pretty small, but Among Authors is a band that beats the odds. Nearly a dozen years ago, at 23, bandleader Ian Ketterer had open-heart surgery. Born without a thumb on his right hand and deaf in his right ear, he plays piano and sings.

Today, Aug. 8, marks the one-year anniversary of when NPR Music published the late Mac Miller's Tiny Desk. Last week, Ty Dolla $ign visited NPR headquarters to record a fantastic Tiny Desk concert of his own that will air in its entirety soon.

It's a bit like browsing through a photo album where the memories are captured in sounds, not images.

Moments before the first note at the Tiny Desk, David Crosby needed the mics rearranged: He asked that his microphone be positioned evenly with the rest of his bandmates, rather than in front of them, explaining that while his name is the one on the marquee, The Lighthouse Band has no hierarchy.

Back in January, Dreamville, one of rap's most formidable artist-run labels, invited a broad selection of hip-hop artists and creators to Atlanta to create the label's third compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers IIIand with Bas being one of Dreamville's most reliable wordsmiths, he was, naturally, part of that momentous camp.

When vocalist Ileana Cabra Joglar and her band visited the Tiny Desk, they'd just arrived from the front lines of the historic demonstrations taking place in Puerto Rico. Two days earlier, they were part of a crowd of tens of thousands who were on the streets calling for the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Rosselló recently stepped down, effective Friday.)

This week, join Fiona Ritchie as she features new music from both sides of the pond, with Skipinnish, Suzy Bogguss and a brand new release of a 1982 Dick Gaughan recording.

Don't see the video above? Click here.

Lots of musicians cut corners during sound check. It's a time to make sure everyone's in tune and in balance, everyone's blocked properly for the cameras, and every piece of recording equipment is doing its job the way it's supposed to, but it's not as if anyone's rolling tape for posterity. Sometimes, Tiny Desk artists do their sound check in shabby street clothes before ducking into the green room to don their fancy performance wear. It's standard procedure, and no big deal at all.

I was thrilled to have the gifted voice of Tamino gracing the Tiny Desk. But as charged as I was, that didn't match the excitement that Colin Greenwood expressed as we rode up the elevator. The Radiohead bassist (and bassist for this special performance) shared a brief text exchange with his son, basically telling his hugely accomplished dad that playing the Tiny Desk was "the coolest thing he'd ever done!" That made us all smile.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Chansons

Jul 24, 2019

From the "chant de marin," or sea shanties, of Brittany to the songs of the voyageurs of the Canadian fur trade, enjoy the French songs that extend branches of the Celtic music tree from the old world to the new, with artists Le Vent du Nord, Hilary James and Chris Norman.

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