NPR Music & Concerts

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

Step into summer by tuning into some of the fresh new music recently arrived at The Thistle & Shamrock offices in the U.S. and Scotland. Fiona Ritchie handpicks newly-hatched releases from debuting artists that have caught her ear as well as the latest from musicians who frequent her playlists. Be among the first to hear what's sprouting from Fiona's music inbox.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Raise Your Voice

Jun 12, 2019

Traditional and folk songs often lend themselves to carefully crafted, multi-layered singing, with some arrangements creating remarkably beautiful, new versions of old songs, rich with voices. Join the choruses with some of your favorite bands in fuller voice.

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Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they'll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk.

Host Fiona Ritchie is joined by the well-loved singer of Scottish traditional and contemporary songs, Christine Kydd.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Scent Of Spring

May 30, 2019

Spring is in the airs... and in the jigs, reels, and songs as we put out a musical welcome mat for the first signs of the season. Artists featured in this episode include Nightnoise, Kim Robertson and The Whistlebinkies.

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During the course of their performance behind the desk, the four core members of LADAMA — Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola and Sara Lucas — had a chance to display their individual cultural and musical roots as part of an engaging and mesmerizing whole. Represented in glorious musical virtuosity are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, with a dash of New York City thrown in just to make it interesting.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Dreamtime

May 22, 2019

Settle into an hour of soothing voices and soaring instrumentals that all go to prove this roots music business needn't always be high-energy. Featured in this episode are Davy Spillane, William Jackson, Maire Brennan and Dougie MacLean.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.

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I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

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When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

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When Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart fired up their angular guitar sounds during soundcheck at the Tiny Desk, I was thrilled. The shrieking, rhythmic noise these two classically trained musicians make as Ohmme is what made their debut album, Parts, a musical highlight for me in 2018. But hearing them in the office, trading vocals with such ping-pong precision, sent me into euphoria. This is now one of my all-time favorite Tiny Desk concerts.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Season Of Light

May 8, 2019

Celebrate the coming of summer, the fertility of the season and the greening of the earth as Fiona Ritchie invites you to gather around the fires of "Beltane," one of four ancient, annual Celtic festivals that mark the passage from one season to the next. Artists featured include Loreena McKennitt, The Poozies, and Jim Malcolm.

Prepare to be calmed.

The Thistle & Shamrock: The Great Tapestry

May 1, 2019

Follow the historic migration from Scotland through Ulster into Pennsylvania and on down the Great Wagon Road to a final destination in the Southern Appalachians. Artists featured in this session include Patrick Street, Cara Dillon, and Sheila Kay Adams.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Atlantic Bridge

Apr 24, 2019

Fiona Ritchie presents an hour of music to ferry you across the Atlantic bridge from Old World to new, with fiddle melodies and Gaelic airs from artists including Alasdair Fraser of Scotland, Ireland's Maeve Donnelly and Dougie MacDonald of Cape Breton Island.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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If just one thing can be confirmed from these compelling Tiny Desk performances by the Calidore String Quartet, it should be that the centuries-old formula – two violins, a viola and a cello – is still very much alive and evolving. Indeed, an impromptu show of hands in the audience before the concert began revealed that almost everyone had seen a string quartet perform live.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Song Links

Apr 17, 2019

Join Fiona Ritchie to discover the connections that tie her world to the music of the Southern Appalachians. This episode features Jean Ritchie, Al Petteway and Dolores Keane.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Made In America

Apr 10, 2019

Join us to hear some early field recordings of Irish master musicians who inspire players to this day, including Liz Carroll and Eileen Ivers.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Georgia Anne Muldrow is all about showing and spreading love. That fact became clear as we discussed the set list for her Tiny Desk performance. She and the band were floating the possibility of swapping the duet with her partner in music and life, Dudley Perkins with another song. But she decided it was more important to showcase their shared love on the song "Flowers," originally from Perkins' 2003 album A Lil' Light.

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