NPR Music & Concerts

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

The Thistle & Shamrock: Hometown Song

7 hours ago

This week, we feature artists singing about their homelands and hometowns, including Maura O'Connell, Liz Carroll and The Easy Club.

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind. The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band's second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

When Sharon Van Etten made her Tiny Desk debut back in the fall of 2010, her voice exuded fragile, gentle grace. Performing songs from that year's Epic, she huddled around a single acoustic guitar with backup singer Cat Martino to perform a set of tender and evocative folk-pop songs.

Molly Sarlé began her fascination with the multitude of objects shelved behind the Tiny Desk back when she sang with Mountain Man earlier this year. This time, with her own band, those objects left by others inspired a tale of a sweaty towel, an old lover and more.

Recorded live at the Birnam Book Festival, American folk singer, songwriter and activist Peggy Seeger is joined by Scots-language singer and songwriter Alan Reid, with host Fiona Ritchie to explore the transatlantic travel of songs.

Josh Ritter came to the Tiny Desk with the enthusiasm of a young child and the wisdom of an old soul. He arrived armed with a message and musical soulmates, Amanda Shires on fiddle and Jason Isbell on acoustic guitar. Both play on Josh's 2019 album Fever Breaks; in fact, Jason produced the record.

The Thistle & Shamrock: ThistleRadio New

Sep 25, 2019

Tune in to hear a sampling of Fiona Ritchie's award-winning 24-hour ThistleRadio stream, featuring Luka Bloom, Calan, and Irish group The Unwanted.

When Ari Lennox entered NPR Headquarters to perform at the Tiny Desk, we soon learned she was a little under the weather. Draped in a long, leopard-print coat, she greeted the band and approached the desk. I asked her if she was in any shape to sing, and she assured me she was. "Oh, I'm fine and I'm ready!" With that, she slipped off her coat, took her place behind the desk and began her warm up.

Rosanne Cash and her band arrived at NPR to play the Tiny Desk on a freezing cold, bright sunny day in January — one of those brittle, crystal clear winter days when the snow reflects the sun and there's nowhere to hide from the light. Her intense performance had that same balance of heat and ice.

Luz Elena Mendoza has such a far-reaching creative spirit that it's almost impossible to confine her to a single musical identity. Which is why she's one of just a handful of artists who've been invited back to the Tiny Desk to offer a revised musical vision.

There's a hush to the music of Nilüfer Yanya that made the Tiny Desk the perfect stage for her sound. On a hot summer day, the British singer and her band — made up of Jazzi Bobbi primarily on sax, Lucy Lu on bass, Ellis Dupuy on drums and Nilüfer on guitar and vocals — performed their three-song set with restraint and subtlety. At moments, the music felt like an eruption waiting to happen, though the suave, refined sound left an indelible vibe in the room.

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.

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