Singer-songwriter Holly Williams makes her first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. Williams' lineage is as close to royalty as country music can get — her grandfather is Hank Williams, and her father is Hank Williams Jr. — but her voice as a songwriter and singer is uniquely her own.
The same week that Neil Young introduced his Pono music player designed to spark a huge boost in audio fidelity, I listened for the first time to a recording of a Grateful Dead concert I attended almost 40 years ago. And I realized that passions about good-sounding music go through cycles. Today, the lo-fi medium is MP3s through earbuds.
The three brothers in the Southern rock band Pontiak could tear the roof off any coliseum with their arena-sized riffs. Hailing from rural Virginia, the Carney brothers — Van, Jennings and Lain — have crafted a long string of albums filled with fuzzy, feedback-laden neo-psych stoner jams since forming Pontiak a decade ago.
Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 10:54 am
The Final Four is set. The No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators take on the upstart Connecticut Huskies this Saturday, followed by a matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Kentucky Wildcats.
These programs obviously have great basketball pedigree, but did you know that each of these schools have ties to some of our favorite musicians? Take this quiz to find out how the college scenes in Gainesville, Storrs, Madison and Lexington have shaped your iTunes collection.
Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 9:06 am
Music is an aural medium, but the two musicians represented on this album have careers defined, at least in part, by visuals. Valentina Lisitsa, the 44-year-old Ukrainian-born pianist, revived her stalled career by uploading videos of herself playing Chopin to YouTube. After millions clicked, she landed a record deal.
Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 11:53 am
Erika M. Anderson appreciates the flickering quality of meaning. She likes the sparks that fly off sounds, igniting constructive confusion: the buzz that makes an old synth sound like a guitar, or the way an acoustic beat can crash into an electronic one to make a whole nervous system of rhythm. She's also into wordplay, starting with the name of her ongoing project EMA — an acronym that could stand for a government agency but, read another way, is a feminine name. Then there's the title of her second album, The Future's Void, with its odd, homonym-like instability.
Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 9:11 am
There's nothing wrong with music that doubles as an outpouring of joy: sing-along choruses, ecstatic vocals, outsize emotion — a positive outlook on life, generally speaking. If that's your thing, Protomartyr is here to spill it all over the front of your nice, new shirt, possibly scalding you in the process.
Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 2:54 pm
Nothing is perfect, but some things nearly are, and Todd Terje's song "Inspector Norse" is one of them. It's the sound of pure faith in human kindness, a full glass of champagne at the inaugural beach party — before it all goes wrong, before you get blistering sunburn and an endless hangover and curse the loser who robbed you of what could have been the best summer of your life. Even if all of that does happen, you can just hit play the first day of the next summer. Same effect.
Originally published on Tue April 8, 2014 12:03 pm
Teebs is a signature member of the collective surrounding Brainfeeder, an iconoclastic electronic label stationed in L.A. As per the habits of its exploratory founder Flying Lotus, it's big into refractions of beats and bass. Most of the roster, in different ways, favors the peculiar and the strange, but it's all very heady, too.
Originally published on Thu April 3, 2014 12:18 pm
There is hardly a title in music as onerous as "New York hip-hop artist." Attached to that description are preconceived notions about look, sound and subject matter, coupled with the stigma of being from a place that has gone from being the most prominent and relevant locale in hip-hop to struggling to stay a part of the conversation.
With a twang and a yodel, Saintseneca's new album, Dark Arc, begins on a foreboding note. "You're drenched in blood, still warm with with wear," frontman Zac Little sings before leading the band into a driving rock chorus.
The Biblical tale of Noah's Ark isn't the likeliest of big screen blockbusters. But that didn't stop Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Black Swan) from pitching it to a Hollywood studio.
"When I first went to the studio, I said, 'Hey, what's the only boat more famous than the Titanic?' " he tells NPR's Kelly McEvers.
Originally published on Sat March 29, 2014 1:10 pm
Every week I hear something amazing, see something inspiring and want to pass it on. These events are sometimes fleeting, sometimes iconic, but they stop me in my tracks. Bob's Rainbows is the place where I'll highlight the very best of my weekly music intake. [Editor's note: Why rainbows? They're the only naturally occurring phenomenon that can make Bob take his headphones off.]
The Outfit, TX are a trio from Dallas who came together at the University of Houston. Dorian and Mel have been partners since middle school, and they met JayHawk in a freshmen dorm. The three of them sat down with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley in the Austin sunshine, cracked a few Lone Stars and opined on Texas funk, Texas weather, church and their business plan. They also spoke about the career stage they're at right now:
"Nashville is where you go to make country music," Chuck Mead says. "There's a certain song vibration down here. There's a whole songwriting culture and playing culture that really doesn't exist outside of New York, or Los Angeles or Chicago."
Tony Award-nominated actress, vocalist and songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway has sung with top orchestras and big bands the world over, and has been a guest performer with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Her latest projects include the show Boom! with her sister Liz Callaway, as well as a tribute to Barbra Streisand with the Boston Pops.
Luray makes its first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The Americana collective is led by banjo player and singer Shannon Carey. Based near Washington, D.C., Carey comes from a musical Wisconsin family: Her brother Sean is drummer and supporting vocalist for Bon Iver.
This Piano Jazz episode from 1999 features one of today's preeminent jazz singers. Dianne Reeves brings her rhythmic virtuosity to a sparkling set of standards, including duets with host Marian McPartland on "Close Enough for Love" and "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise."
Whenever photographer Chuck Stewart was hired by a record company to document a recording session, he would shoot during the rehearsal takes, playback and downtime. The company would take what it needed, the remainder likely never to be developed, much less published. After decades in the photography business, and thousands of album covers to his name, he's amassed a lot of negatives.
You know what's awesome? Drum fills. A killer bass line is pretty great, too. And guitar solos. And melodies and chord progressions. But a really great drum fill is often the one thing that makes a song truly take off. Think of Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and try not to get that song's classic fill stuck in your head immediately.
Originally published on Fri March 28, 2014 10:53 am
Is an artist's life relevant to her reputation as an artist? Not so much, perhaps, but many of us want the bio anyway, especially when the artist in question is as tantalizingly elusive as Vivian Maier (or Mayer, or Meyer, as she variously spelled it to confound the curious), a reclusive Chicago nanny whose posthumously discovered trove of street photographs swelled into a cause celebre after her death in 2009.
Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 4:04 pm
We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the hundreds of water bottles we were supposed to give away at SXSW is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when a person can rightly be considered too old to attend music festivals.
Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 1:30 pm
Beginning Thursday, March 27, Alt.Latino hosts Felix Contreras and Jasmine Garsd will visit Mexico City to check out bands playing Vive Latino, the biggest rock and alternative music festival in Latin America. Before they packed their sunscreen, they made this YouTube playlist of the artists they hope to see.
The Wytches' furious, hair-flinging psych-rock isn't the stuff of back-porch acoustic sessions: Both live and on the English band's singles, the energy is so intense, it can barely be contained. But when NPR Music arranged a Wytches session during SXSW — held in the charming backyard setting of Friends & Neighbors in east Austin — singer-guitarist Kristian Bell stood in for the whole band, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar.
Chihiro Yamanaka and Jane Bunnett come to the Kennedy Center from Japan and Canada, respectively, and each has a compelling story.
Jane Bunnett is from Toronto, yet for more than 30 years, she's championed Cuban music and musicians. She's made dozens of trips to the island, studying and working, bringing instruments to schoolchildren, and inviting players to return to Canada with her and her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer.
With a powerful debut single and an impressive EP, Ireland's Hozier already has a lot of momentum. He was the talk of SXSW earlier this month, and we welcomed him to our studios for his U.S. radio debut soon afterwards. We quickly learned that his talent is more than one song deep as he dug into his American blues influences and showcased his considerable vocal range. Here, he performs "Take Me to Church" live on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Kronos Quartet is celebrating 40 years of playing music together — and to mark the occasion, they're playing a celebration concert at Carnegie Hall in New York tomorrow night. Since their founding, the San Francisco-based string quartet has become one of the most visible ensembles in classical music. The players have done it by championing new and underheard music, and by coming up with a business model that was unheard of for a chamber group four decades ago.
Of the young guitarists on New York's jazz scene, few are as highly tipped as Matthew Stevens. Best known for his role in Christian Scott's quintet, he's often drafted to execute the new visions of his peers, but also gets calls from veteran musicians like Terri Lyne Carrington and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Stevens also has a knack for writing and arranging, and will soon unveil his own debut recording as a bandleader.