NPR Music & Concerts

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

When you go to a Dave Matthews Band concert, you expect a super-sized performance, complete with expansive solos and a nice, long set list. So when Matthews shed his backing players to swing by the Tiny Desk for a solo gig, he couldn't just knock out three songs and bail. Instead, he played a set so long — so defiantly un-Tiny — that his between-song banter could have filled a Tiny Desk concert on its own.

Rakim: Tiny Desk Concert

Jun 25, 2018

It had been nearly a decade since Rakim released new music, but that drought ended Friday when the godfather of rap lyricism and one half of the revered duo Eric B & Rakim released a new song, "King's Paradise." The track was written for Season 2 of Marvel's Luke Cage, which premiered on Netflix the same day, but it wasn't entirely new to select NPR staff; they heard it days earlier when the God MC performed at the Tiny Desk.

Whenever a symphony orchestra or opera house loses its financial footing, a chorus of classical music "coroners" quickly steps up to pronounce the imminent demise of an entire genre. The pianist and scholar Charles Rosen put it best when he said, "The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition."

Friends, a lot happened over the weekend. On Friday, Luis Fonsi proved once again that he can get millions of views with a well-drawled ayyyyy on any given beach in Puerto Rico; this time, he got an unexpected assist from U.K. grime star Stefflon Don. On Saturday, Daddy Yankee recruited the recently reunited old-school duo R.K.M. and Ken-Y for another go at it, now that reggaeton seems to (finally) be having its mainstream moment.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Combos

Jun 20, 2018

What goes with what? When it comes to Celtic music combos, almost anything goes, as long as it sounds good. So you be the judge when host Fiona Ritchie revels in the joyous sounds of multi-instrumental line-ups this week.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It was Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day when this somewhat loud and sometimes frenetic band came to play at my desk. I couldn't help but wonder if The Messthetics would inspire some eight-year old child in the office to one day become a musician, one who'd go on tell the tale of seeing these D.C. legends at an office when they were a kid.

On Saturday, one of the highest-profile and most scrutinized marriages in pop music became an official collaboration with the surprise release of Jay-Z and Beyoncé's album Everything Is Love, credited to The Carters, alongside a video for the album's first single, shot in the Louvre. The album had been rumored since the release of Beyoncé's 2016 album Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44, both of which addressed fault lines in the artists' marriage, and in a summer of major hip-hop albums, this instantly marked a new high-water mark.

Before Khalid performed "Location," his debut single that's now four-times platinum, at the Tiny Desk, he told the audience the story of how he wrote the track during his senior year of high school not knowing where music would take him. (FYI: He graduated in the Class of 2016.

There is a sonic revolution happening in Cuba these days. A new generation of musicians are taking the training they received in Cuba's fabled classical music academies to new heights by incorporating not just jazz, but hip-hop, funk and any manner of experimental music. Yissy García and Bandancha may be the best example of that vanguard.

GoldLink is a man of the people. As a D.C. native, the skinny, stylish rapper acted as if his Tiny Desk performance was a family reunion and took the opportunity to invite everybody and their cousin in as his guests.

Danny Kirwan, the guitarist who joined Fleetwood Mac at age 18 and played on five of the band's albums, died Friday in London at age 68. His death was announced by Mick Fleetwood on the group's Facebook page; no cause was given.

It's a good thing the weather was gloomy the day Jorja Smith rolled in for her Tiny Desk concert. Even though the skies threatened rain and thunder, the overcast light lingering in our dimmed office space allowed the teardrop pendant lights, hung from the ceiling by her lighting team, to cast the desk in a warm, honey-hued glow. And while the nimble guitar strings and double-time drums of her supporting band was enough to dizzy the focus in the room, it was the U.K.

New York's Village Vanguard may come closer than any other club to embodying the spirit of jazz. For nearly 30 years, the guardian of that spirit has been the Vanguard's formidable impresaria, Lorraine Gordon. Gordon, a jazz champion since her teen years and one of the music's female pioneers, died Saturday at the age of 95.

We had wanted to get MILCK (aka Connie Lim) to the Tiny Desk ever since she captured the hearts of so many by performing her song "Quiet" during the Women's March On Washington last year. Before the concert, we talked a lot with her and her production team about how to best share her deeply affecting, anthemic pop songs. Should we have a choir? Maybe a string quartet?

Hear music from the acclaimed National Theatre of Scotland production The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart, that celebrates traditional poetry, storytelling and music woven through a supernatural tale. Fiona Ritchie gets to the heart of the tale and explores the music that moves it along, inspired by Border Ballads and Robert Burns.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my "accidental concert experience," I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America's Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

Daniel Caesar and his band had a clear vision for their Tiny Desk performance. While already confined to a small space, they opted to congregate at the piano, where producer and music director Matthew Burnett sat to create what feels like a fly-on-the-wall moment. We're presented a purity that's nearly impossible to capture on an album.

On Friday, June 1, Kanye West released his eighth studio album, titled ye, after revealing it during a live-streamed event held at a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Later that day, two of NPR Music's critics, Rodney Carmichael and Ann Powers, discussed what they heard in the album's seven songs, and whether they could separate the music from the mania that surrounds it.


Rodney Carmichael: This is going to be the most polarizing album of the year. That's my one-sentence review. Of course, we already knew that, right?

Pianist, composer and bandleader Arturo O'Farrill was born into Afro-Cuban jazz royalty but growing up he rejected his famous musical heritage. Now, he travels the world sharing his late father Chico O'Farrill's legacy as a principal architect of the mash up of jazz and Afro-Cuban music in the late 1940s.

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.

Whether it's your first or 50th time on the road, being on tour is a roller coaster. Phoebe Bridgers, a 2018 Slingshot artist, is not new to this wild ride — nor will she be hanging up her guitar any time soon. Her headlining tour, playfully named "The Farewell Tour" in support of her debut album Stranger In the Alps, has continued non-stop since its release in 2017.

I learned a few things while watching Tom Misch perform at the Tiny Desk that should've been obvious to a longtime fan like me: He produces beats with a live audience in mind. As much as his drums slap, guitar is the foundation for most of his songs and he showcases a burgeoning talent on the instrument throughout his set.

Colombian band Bomba Estéreo has a hit on its hands, and the story behind its success is a testament to fan demand and the power of a great song.

Singer Kesha has lost the latest round in her long-standing and acrimonious legal battle with producer Dr. Luke, which began with a suit filed in California in October 2014 accusing him of drugging and raping her.

On Tuesday, the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled that the singer cannot pursue a countersuit aiming to void her business contracts with Dr. Luke, born Lukasz Gottwald.

Trouble Funk: Tiny Desk Concert

May 30, 2018

Go-go — Washington D.C.'s regional twist on funk — reigned in the DMV during the 1980s, and one of the scene's signature acts was Trouble Funk. More than 30 years later, the collective, led by Big Tony Fisher, still fills sold-out venues with heavyweight percussion and call-and-response lyrics. Trouble Funk concerts are bona fide jam sessions, so I was determined to squeeze their unrelenting rhythms behind the Tiny Desk.

The Thistle & Shamrock: More New Sounds

May 30, 2018

This week there are rising names to discover and exciting new sounds from Cathy Jordan's Americana trio The Unwanted and Welsh band Calan.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Back at the beginning of time, the human voice was the very first instrument. Probably close in second place were folks banging on stuff – in other words, percussionists. The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion takes primordial pounding into a completely distinctive new league. To be sure, in this Tiny Desk performance, they'll play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and 3/4" galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store.

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