NPR Music & Concerts

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John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He's performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour, a nearly four-hour marathon of concerts in miniature, held at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW on Tuesday night. The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting.

Each year at SXSW, a few emerging artists become the talk of the festival. This year, Cautious Clay — the far-reaching and breezily soulful project of singer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Karpeh — appears to be one of the names on attendees' lips. As luck would have it, Karpeh appeared at NPR Music's Tiny Desk Family Hour on Tuesday night, and this was the way to witness the band do its work: before a reverent crowd, in a reverent setting, with impeccable sound to bring out the richness and depth in Karpeh's voice.

If you're going to put together the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour — an epic night of Tiny Desk-style concerts, held at the wonderful Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW Tuesday night — you might as well kick things off with a core member of the Tiny Desk Family.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Welsh Roots

Mar 13, 2019

Some of the acoustic roots sounds of Wales are well worth checking into. Fiona Ritchie features great singers like Cerys Matthews and Julie Murphy, along with enigmatic bands including Rag Foundation, Ffynnon, Ember and Crasdant.

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

Remember that scene in The Color Purple when Shug Avery was somewhere between the juke joint and her daddy's church, singing at the top of her lungs, and the Saturday night sinners got all mixed in with the Sunday morning saints, and it was hard to tell if they were praising the high heavens or raising holy hell?

That's what Leikeli47's Tiny Desk felt like in the flesh.

Fiona Ritchie talks with Chris Thile about his varied musical career and involvement in Carnegie Hall's Migrations: The Making of America festival, featuring many of his award-winning recordings.

Meg Myers put out one of 2018's most intense and cathartic albums. Take Me to the Disco raged and threw sonic punches at anyone who'd ever attempted to use or abuse her, from former record executives to past lovers. Dressed in a sparkling blue leotard, Myers re-creates that fire and ferocity behind the Tiny Desk, replacing her album's roaring electric guitars and electronics with a pulsing string quartet, piano and brushed drums.

"I wish I could've savored that moment longer," Phony Ppl lead singer Elbee Thrie said to me as we rode the elevator down, following the band's Tiny Desk performance. "I'll never forget this."

Throughout the set, you see Thrie scan the entire office, taking mental inventory of the entire experience. Phony Ppl is a group that emits a vigorous energy on and off stage. In this case, the spirit was exchanged between the band and the NPR staff from the moment they gathered behind the desk and gave a zesty greeting.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. It might sound cliché, but there's really no better way to describe the circumstances that led to prolific producer Zaytoven's impromptu Tiny Desk.

Cattle raids, battles, betrayals and family loyalties are all commemorated in the ballads of the borderlands between Scotland and England, sometimes referred to as "the debatable lands."

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

Full disclosure: We here at NPR Music have decreed Natalie Prass something of a patron saint for roséwave — our groove-laden, pink drink-soaked soundtrack for the summer. So, when the Richmond, Va. artist arrived at the Tiny Desk, it was a cause for celebration, especially amid the January blues that seemed to permeate the NPR Music office.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Love Songs

Feb 20, 2019

This week, Fiona Ritchie shares not only some of Robert Burns' traditional love verses, but also music featuring the love of land, whisky, and homeland, with Maura O'Connell, Shooglenifty, and Moya Brennan.

Something happens when you get a chance to see Afro-Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez perform. First of all, his smile radiates. It's hard to imagine someone happier than he is to make music in front of people; and as we saw during his turn behind Bob Boilen's desk, he mesmerizes with this almost otherworldly talent on congas. His hands can be a blur because they move so quickly. To the untrained eye, it's hard to see exactly what he is doing to draw out the sounds he does from his drums.

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He's always been one of our favorites, though he's never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, "Begin Againers" in 2016 and though it wasn't the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Singer-Songwriters

Feb 13, 2019

Join Fiona Ritchie as she offers an abundance of songwriting talent for you to explore, with voices that command your attention and melodies that never fail to strike that chord deep within. Artists include Karan Casey, Karine Polwart and Solas.

Mountain Man is the perfect band for a Tiny Desk concert. These three women make the most intimate music; and behind the desk, the voices of Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig were the stars. Adorned by only light, rhythmic acoustic guitar, they sing songs that conjure a simpler life: dogs, friends, moonlight, sunlight, skinny dipping, beach towels and sand.

There's a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Debuts

Feb 6, 2019

It's all new music as Fiona Ritchie introduces new releases from artists debuting on her show. You and your radio are on the brink of discovery with artists including Elizabeth and Ben Anderson, Garadice and The Crooked Jades.

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

Most artists who play the Tiny Desk are at least a little nervous. Performing in broad daylight in a working office full of staring faces is outside the comfort zones of most people. But Chan Marshall, the unforgettable voice behind Cat Power, seemed especially uneasy when she settled in for her set. Rather than taking center stage, close to the audience, she stepped back and to the side to be closer to her pianist and friend, Erik Paparazzi, for much of the performance.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Songs Of The Bard

Jan 30, 2019

Discover the contemporary appeal of verses written by Robert Burns over 200 years ago. Fiona Ritchie features artists including the Paul McKenna Band, Corrina Hewat and Eddi Reader on this episode.

When musicians visit NPR to perform in our Tiny Desk concert series, we occasionally use the opportunity to have a little fun. Eslah Attar created this series of instant film portraits during her time working at NPR in 2018.

This Blood Orange Tiny Desk is a beautifully conceived concert showing off the craft and care that has made Devonté Hynes a groundbreaking producer and songwriter. It's a distillation of themes found on Dev Hynes' fourth album as Blood Orange, titled Negro Swan. Themes of identity, both sexual and racial, through the eyes of a black East Londoner (now living in New York) run through this album and concert.

Hear insights on song and novel writing, and unique projects uncovering Scottish connections in North America and Europe as Fiona Ritchie chats with multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and singer Brian McNeill.

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

When Stella Donnelly showed up for this Tiny Desk performance with just her guitar in hand, she immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It's the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you'll see. While there's no doubting her sincerity, she's also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

John Prine was not even on the bill at Newport, but he stepped out on stage to introduce Margo Price. The set just got better from there.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Year Sounds

Jan 16, 2019

Get the New Year off to a good musical start as Fiona Ritchie features some brilliant new sounds from Birichin, Kevin Burke and John McCutcheon.

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

Nate Wood - fOUR: Tiny Desk Concert

Jan 16, 2019

Nate Wood says he only wishes he had more limbs. He made the comment in an interview NPR partner station WBGO, noting only the limitations of his physical body, rather than his ability to multitask. In his latest project, Nate Wood - fOUR, Wood's brain splits attention between four synthesizers, an electric bass and a drum kit, all while singing about futurism.

Aaron Lee Tasjan arrived at the Tiny Desk in his fashionable ascot and mustard-colored shirt, sporting reflective, red, rounded sunglasses and mutton chops. As he warmed up, the sound of the middle-and-late 1960s came through his seagreen, Gorsuch 12-string guitar while his voice felt both familiar and fresh. This buoyant, East Nashville-via-Ohio soul and his fabulous band have a knack for channeling Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and The Kinks.

How do you play an instrument you never physically touch? Watch Carolina Eyck. She's the first to bring a theremin to the Tiny Desk. The early electronic instrument with the slithery sound was invented almost 100 years ago by Leon Theremin, a Soviet scientist with a penchant for espionage. It looks like a simple black metal box with a couple of protruding antennae, but to play the theremin like Eyck does, with her lyrical phrasing and precisely "fingered" articulation, takes a special kind of virtuosity.

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