NPR Music & Concerts

Music features, reviews and "first listens" from NPR.  Find more music at WUNC's  Back Porch Music.

Thistle & Shamrock: Ballads

Feb 25, 2021

When it comes to traditional and contemporary ballads, it's not an exaggeration to say that the characters and events built in these narrative songs matches any on-screen drama. Fiona Ritchie invites you to lose yourself in the timeless world of the ballad. This week's episode features Sarah McQuaid, Karen Matheson, Jean Redpath and Planxty.

Thistle & Shamrock: Mountains

Feb 11, 2021

From high ridges and peaks, to rolling hills and valleys, mountain landscapes have always found their way into songs and instrumentals. This week we're going to head to the hills with JigJam, Jamie MacLean, Al Petteway and Amy White.

Thistle & Shamrock: Wintersong

Jan 21, 2021

Monochrome landscapes, wild weather, long dark nights — they all find their way into music of the season. But don't worry! The warm glow of our music lights even the darkest corners of winter on Thistle as Fiona Ritchie curates an hour of Wintersong. Artists include Maddy Prior, Atwater Donelly and Kim Robertson.

Thistle & Shamrock: New Year Sounds

Jan 14, 2021

Having finally left 2020 behind, get 2021 off to a good musical start with some brilliant fresh sounds. Fiona Ritchie has selected an hour's worth of great music from Celtic roots for you to discover including The Chair, John Doyle and cellist Ofra Harnoy.

Meet internationally-acclaimed author Alexander McCall Smith (No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency) and award-winning composer James Ross, who collaborated on song cycle These Are The Hands. Host Fiona Ritchie chatted with them about the process of bringing together the lyrics (McCall Smith) and the piano arrangements (Ross).

The Thistle & Shamrock: Solstice

Dec 31, 2020

Some of the world's oldest festivals were held around the middle of winter. The ancient Celts actually thought the midwinter sun stood still for 12 days. This week, Fiona Ritchie offers up songs and tunes to lighten and brighten the darkest days of the year. From the short and chilly days of winter, hear music to warm your heart on The Thistle & Shamrock.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Celtic Christmas

Dec 24, 2020

Enter the spirit of a traditional Celtic Christmastide with old carols, dance tunes and verses. Fiona Ritchie shares reflections on the season in what has been a challenging year for radio listeners across the globe. We join hands across the sea to ignite the seasonal spirit that brings us together and gives us hope, with Joel Mabus, Carlos Nuñez and The Gathering.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Gifts

Dec 17, 2020

Whether you're looking for gift ideas or simply looking for an hour of fine music, Fiona Ritchie has the perfect blend. Old, new, and from both sides of the Atlantic, she handpicks a stack of recordings as gift suggestions for music-loving friends and family.

Spend an hour in the company of one of today's most lyrically striking artists. Scottish songwriter and musician Karine Polwart curated a special evening of songs with connections to literature, poetry and stories for the 2019 Birnam Book Festival. Enjoy your front row seat for this exclusive concert presented by Fiona Ritchie.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Harvest

Nov 20, 2020

During these difficult times for the performing arts, the creative spark of artists remains undimmed. New releases from musicians are a bright reminder that they will sing and play and record their music even through tough times. Featured artists include Judy Fairbairns, Stephen Clark, and Hawktail.

The Thistle & Shamrock: All Hallows' Eve

Nov 5, 2020

You're invited to embark on a musical journey through myth and mystery. Along the way, you'll uncover the legends that live on in the ballads and infuse the melodies with their raw emotion. Artists include Cathie Ryan, Garefowl, and Sarah McQuaid.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Fall Compilation

Oct 16, 2020

The Thistle & Shamrock has debuted hundreds of new artists, many of whom have become well-known in the folk, roots and acoustic music world. This week Fiona Ritchie cycles back a little to revisit some releases and debuts from the summer. She delves further into the recordings, all highly deserving of more air time before another batch of new music is released.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Biomimicry

Oct 9, 2020

Nature often inspires scientists to create technologies that benefit humanity with innovations known as "biomimicry." Fiona Ritchie follows this notion with music that also takes a leaf out of nature's book, turning towards the natural world for inspiration and sometimes even echoing the sounds of nature. Artists featured include The Bothy Band, Nickel Creek, and John Doyle.

This week it's a late summer, early harvest as Fiona Ritchie puts together an hour of new releases. Featured artists include Anadama, Skerryvore, The Black Brothers, and Luka Bloom.

More than 60 plucked and stringed West African instruments were the predecessors of the modern banjo. Join Fiona Ritchie to follow the migration of the banjo from its African roots to the heart of American music and hear how it crosses over to sit within the Celtic sound. Bela Fleck, Rhiannon Giddens, Mick Moloney and Our Native Daughters all contribute to the telling of this unique musical story.

Celtic music is ever-evolving, and Fiona Ritchie's music library is ever-growing. With new tracks being added to the award-winning ThistleRadio music channel, it's time to hear what's coming on stream. Delve into it all as Fiona Ritchie curates another hour of musical surprises.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Salm And Soul

Jul 29, 2020

This week, the performance style and traditions of both African American gospel and Hebridean psalm singing are explored and celebrated with the Gaelic psalm singers from the Isle of Lewis and the Mt. Zion CPCA Church Gospel Choir from Alabama. Also featured is Capercaillie with Hijas del Sol (formerly known as Sibeba).

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Summer Sounds

Jul 15, 2020

New music is always in season on Thistle. This week it's all about the albums that have been gathering in our North Carolina and Scottish mailboxes just waiting for an hour of your time. We'll hear new music from Maggie MacInnes, Joan Shelley and Caroline Keane.

Some artists count at least half a dozen instruments in their one-person bands. We'll enjoy the multi-instrumentalists this week with all their things stringed, as some cross over also into wind, reed, keys and song! Fiona Ritchie brings Brian McNeill, Ross Ainslie and Julie Fowlis on board for this week's playlist.

On Wednesday, two storied, sibling American music festivals — the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival — announced that they are being canceled for 2020, due to coronavirus concerns. Each event is scheduled to return in the summer of 2021.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Spring Sounds

Apr 29, 2020

The flow of music is never-ending, and a spring tide of new recordings always yields some great new music to lift the spirits. As we work through the challenges of our times, let the music carry you along, with Poor Man's Gambit, Brian McNeill and Séamus Egan.

The Thistle & Shamrock: ThistleRadio Now

Apr 15, 2020

Dip into the playlist of the music channel that won best music show in the country/folk/blues category of the 2017 Online Radio Awards: ThistleRadio. Fiona Ritchie gleans an hour's worth of music from there this week and shares new tracks to be added to the playlist. Artists include Altan, Eamon Friel and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Join Fiona Ritchie at the Swannanoa Gathering's Traditional Song Week as she and her audience enjoy an hour in the company of country music recording artist Suzy Bogguss. The singer-songwriter chats about the roots of American song, how her music has evolved and shows the live audience why she was such a favorite in her many appearances through the years on A Prairie Home Companion.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Releases

Mar 18, 2020

Navigate uncertain times with the uplifting sounds of fresh new music recently arrived at The Thistle & Shamrock offices in the U.S. and Scotland. Fiona Ritchie handpicks newly released and "new to me" recordings from artists you'll know and new names you'll get to know. Artists include Mel Mercier, Ross Miller, and Jim & Susie Malcolm.

Join host Fiona Ritchie at the Swannanoa Gathering's Traditional Song Week as she and her audience enjoy an hour in the company of Scottish folk singer Ed Miller. Through songs and conversation, Fiona and Ed follow his journey from Edinburgh, Scotland to Austin, Texas, where he has been based for many years, hosting public radio shows, performing and leading folk music tours back to his Scottish homeland.

Fiona Ritchie explores the evolving sounds of traditional melodies and lyrics that contribute to a new Celtic music. Some of this is inspired by jazz and classical arrangements, while other new sounds are driven by contemporary and world rhythms.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Debuts

Feb 5, 2020

If you want to hear what's emerging from the worlds of Celtic music, this is the hour for you. Featured artists include Kíla, Haltadans, Barry Phillips and The Crannua Collective.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Songs Of The Bard

Jan 29, 2020

Fiona Ritchie is not alone in her belief that the songs of Scotland's National Bard are as relevant and popular today as they were when they were first written.

Enter the spirit of a traditional Celtic Christmastide with old carols, dance tunes and verses. Fiona Ritchie shares reflections on the season of joy, as we gather to share song, food, fellowship and hopes for the coming year. Artists include Emily Smith, Jennifer Cutting, Ashley Davis and John Doyle.