NPR Music & Concerts

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

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.

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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.

Soul Queen Irma Thomas Becomes A Doctor

May 29, 2018

Irma Thomas is known to R&B fans all over the world, but she's most beloved in her hometown of New Orleans. Everyone in New Orleans calls her Irma.

After much anticipation, Pusha T's third studio album has arrived. And though it was years in the making and is, according to the rapper, a study in having the luxury of taking your time, the last week leading up to the project's release was a haphazard race to the finish line as much as it was a celebration of the long-awaited music.

Ill Camille: Tiny Desk Concert

May 25, 2018

Los Angeles rapper Ill Camille hooked me during my first trip through her sophomore album, Heirloom. Her lyrical prowess and storytelling were so moving, I immediately reached out to her on Instagram and asked if she would like to perform a Tiny Desk. "Please don't make me cry right now. Tiny Desk!?!? You don't understand. I've been praying on this", she replied. "This (message) made my year and my band is ready!"

In the history of world domination schemes, there hasn't been a conqueror that took over the Earth in Spanish since Christopher Columbus. J Balvin is ready to reclaim the music world for his people.

The Thistle & Shamrock: A Gentle Revolution

May 23, 2018

After fading into obscurity, the Celtic harp made a steady resurgence beginning in the 1970s. We present an hour of inspirational sounds from harpers William Jackson, Wendy Stewart, Moya Brennan and Alan Stivell, the latter having been credited with sowing the seeds of this gentle revolution.

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

All Bets Are On Jade Bird

May 21, 2018

Jade Bird is a 20-year-old British-born artist whose songs feel like they were birthed from the hardscrabble spirit of Americana music. Armed with a white guitar and a crystalline voice, this NPR Music 2018 Slingshot artist has a knack for writing songs about the moments in life that you wish you could forget.

After nearly 800 Tiny Desk concerts, The Band's Visit is the first Broadway musical ever to play the series.

The crew from the show, which opened last November at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, descended on NPR at 8:30 a.m. — seven musicians, five actors, a wardrobe department, a make-up artist, a publicist, a music director, the composer and even a vlogger. We started early so they could hustle back to Manhattan for a 7 p.m. curtain.

This is one of the sweetest, funniest and most endearing Tiny Desk performances I've seen. From the moment they began playing, it was clear best friends Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, who perform as the Canadian rock band Partner, were there to leave their mark and have a whole lot of fun doing it.

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