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.
The flow of music is never-ending. A mountain of new recordings doesn't translate into a volume of great music, though, so rely on Thistle and Shamrock host Fiona Ritchie to hand-pick the best new sounds from rising artists and perennial favorites.
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Microphone Check co-hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley spoke to Young Chop in the backyard of a store on the east side of Austin, Texas. Even in the midst of SXSW, the Chicago producer was selling beats and putting in studio time. He took a rare break to talk about studying songs from the '70s, Polow da Don's snare and encouraging up-and-coming artists, including those who step to him at the Texaco.
We had so much fun taping cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble's Field Recording, we couldn't stop at just one selection, so we recorded the group's four talented percussionists in a deep groove.
When you're lucky enough to have cellist Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble, some of the world's premiere instrumentalists and composers, gather for an afternoon of offstage music making, you've got to think long and hard about where to put them. And we decided that the perfect match would be ACME Studio, a theatrical props warehouse in Brooklyn.
Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 10:16 am
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
An album out this week is drawing international attention to a hidden gem of the indie Arab music scene, Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan. Her second album is called "Ya Nass." It showcases her hypnotic phrasing and modern take on traditional Middle Eastern sounds. And it's caught the ears of cultural taste-makers worldwide, from filmmaker Jim Jarmusch to NPR's Bob Boilen and Anastasia Tsioulcas.
The wry and tuneful Withered Hand is Dan Willson, a graphic artist from Edinburgh who drifted away from the Jehovah's Witnesses as a teenager — but not, you get the feeling, with a satisfied mind. His moniker is a scriptural reference, and he named his 2009 debut Good News, one way Christians refer to the New Testament. (More to the point, its key track is called "Religious Songs.")
Ed Kowalczyk makes his first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live at West Virginia University's Creative Arts Center in Morgantown.
The founding member, songwriter and former lead singer of Live, Kowalczyk is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1990s. "I Alone" and "Lightning Crashes" were inescapable staples on radio and MTV, as well as countless mix tapes.
Don't let the precious name fool you. Mr Little Jeans, a.k.a. Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, makes propulsive, sometimes epic pop music with gnarled synth lines and alluring textures. In this brand new Mr Little Jeans video, for the moody song "Good Mistake," a trucker hopped up on meds finds himself traversing the haunted backroads of his past.
Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 12:01 pm
Few things make us cringe quite like hearing about the untimely death of a musical instrument. A table or an appliance may be swept away by a hurricane, or a set of golf clubs may be mangled by baggage handlers, but they don't hold quite the emotional pull of seeing a crushed guitar or piano. It feels like something living has died.
Malta, the island nation 50 miles south of Sicily, may be small, but it's home to one of the biggest stars in opera, tenor Joseph Calleja. And like his country's name, which may originate in the Greek word for honey, Calleja's voice is a potent mix of Italianate passion and sweetness. Just listen to how he pulls the volume back to a slender golden ray of tone several times in Tosti's gorgeous "Ideale," and especially the word "disciogliea" in the Puccini aria that closes this performance.
Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 10:13 am
Rosanne Cash's last three records, starting with Black Cadillac and including both her covers collection The List and her new The River & The Thread, form a trilogy on the subject of her relationship with her father Johnny Cash — both as his daughter and as a fellow artist.
The great bebop pianist Bud Powell played several engagements at the New York jazz club Birdland in 1953. Parts of his shows were broadcast on the radio, and one listener recorded some onto acetate discs. A new collection of those recordings is out now: Birdland 1953 on three CDs from ESP-Disk'. The sound quality isn't much, but the music is terrific.
It's hard not to use fiery rhetoric when describing Angel Olsen's new album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness — whether it's the heated passion of her lyrics, her smoky voice or her occasionally scorching melodies. There's just a brightness, an intensity that shines through even the album's darkest moments. As the scope of Olsen's songwriting and her confidence in performing has grown over the past four years, so has her audience.
The majestic instrumental rock band Explosions in the Sky broke into the mainstream thanks to its contributions to the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights — both the film and the TV series of the same name. With three-quarters of the band originally from Midland, Texas, Explosions in the Sky possesses an ideal toolkit to capture the sounds of football, the roaring wind of the plains and the quiet hope and despair of small-town life in the Texas Panhandle.
Banjo, baglama, bulbul, balalaika, bowed banjo, baritone ukulele, banjo, bass, bouzouki... Saintseneca might pick up any of these instruments at any given moment, and those are just the ones that start with the letter B. The band has its origins and heart in a small Appalachian town in Ohio, as well as a passion for sounds and textures with acoustic instruments at their core. Saintseneca's members eventually settled in Columbus, and they like their acoustic music a bit punkish, with stomping feet as a heartbeat to accompany mind-altering words and music.