NPR Music

Bob Dylan is evidently not finished with his (grand, now exhaustive) inquiry into the Great American Songbook.

The 2016 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who was hailed by the Swedish Academy for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition," is releasing a three-disc mega-dose from the pre-rock era of that tradition on March 31.

In early 2016, The Megaphonic Thrift won a Spelleman Award (Norway's Grammy equivalent) for the previous year's Sun Stare Sound. It's a noise-pop record that puts the emphasis on pop, bursting with earworm-y melodies sunk into lysergic effects, guitar and bass interlaced like latticework with dreamy, dueling vocals. The record will now be available stateside for those of us that had to hunt it down for the first time, but here's a track for those that maybe missed it, a tribute to the band's hometown, "Bergen Revels."

Gothenburg, Sweden's Agent Blå ("Agent Blue" in English) hasn't been a band for very long, but its unique hybrid — a goth genre combination of indie-pop and post-punk that it calls "death pop" — evokes a certain youthful immediacy that feels far removed from infancy. The composite makes sense, considering the band's members range in age from 17 to 20 years old.

This is the story of a hoax that almost was. Its motivating force was a hunger for fame, or infamy, or whispered legend in a particularly American sort of way. It begins on a beach somewhere in south Florida.

It's been about 10 years since Irish singer-songwriter Fionn Regan made his U.S. debut with The End Of History, a Mercury Prize-nominated collection of soft-spoken acoustic folk-pop songs in the tradition of Damien Rice and Nick Drake.

As a musician, Aimee Mann has long indulged her bleaker side, dating all the way back to her mid-'80s debut as the lead singer of 'Til Tuesday. In the quarter-century since she launched her solo career, Mann has released nine solo albums — not counting her classic film work in 1999's Magnolia — and formed a duo called The Both with Ted Leo.

Phoebe Bridgers was one of our top discoveries going into SXSW, a quiet and powerful voice in the loud din of the festival. After she performed at Central Presbyterian Church, a favorite venue among our staff, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen's hotel room just before midnight to play the striking "Smoke Signals."

Singer Kevin Morby is back with a followup to last year's much beloved full-length Singing Saw. The new album is called City Music and is due out June 16 on Dead Oceans. Morby has also shared the record's first single and lyric video, the moody and transfixing "Come To Me Now."

Less than a week after Chuck Berry's death at the age of 90, his family announced details Wednesday about the rock and roll pioneer's first album in 38 years — and gave us a taste of what it will sound like.

Timothy Showalter is the band called Strand of Oaks. Originally from Indiana, Showalter now lives in Philadelphia, where he's reimagined himself as a rocker after releasing a couple of quieter albums. This latest phase of his career started with his well-received 2014 album Heal; he recently released the follow-up, Hard Love.

To call what DakhaBrakha does "folk music" completely misses a world of inspiration and sound, both here on Earth and perhaps elsewhere. The mostly-acoustic, utterly unique Ukrainian band mixes traditions from its homeland, but goes wide too, with West African rhythms and Indian drones to create a wild, thrilling texture (especially live).

Chuck Berry Taught Me How To Be An American

Mar 21, 2017

I was an immigrant's kid growing up in the 1970s in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York. From an early age I learned that because I carried this weird name and my family ate, dressed and worshipped differently than most of my neighbors, being fluent in American popular culture connected me with others — especially the neighborhood boys who often ignored and sometimes threatened me. So I devoured everything I could find about baseball and watched an unhealthy amount of television.

It's spring, a time for renewal and flowers and sunshine and... sadness, if Football, etc. has anything to do with it. For nearly ten years, singer and guitarist Lindsay Minton has flown the flag for '90s-era emo, with all of that movement's signature heart-on-the-sleeve confessionals and a voice that knows how to carry a weight. As I wrote a couple years ago, Football, etc.

In embracing the excesses of rock 'n' roll, Bay Area band Thee Oh Sees has gained a reputation as one of the best live acts in the country. The group's show features two drummers, chainsaw-like guitars and vocals so visceral they almost border on the absurd. Oh, and strobe lights. A lot of strobe lights.

When Chuck Berry died last week, the music-loving world rose to acknowledge his status as, in Bob Dylan's words, the Shakespeare of rock and roll. The man was 90; people were ready. Jon Pareles, chief pop critic of The New York Times, and David Remnick, editor at The New Yorker, both immediately published lengthy obituaries. Musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Questlove to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones – Berry's famous protégé – rushed to pay tribute.

We stayed up late, damaged our ear sockets and gave into the ecstasy of live music at SXSW: Diet Cig, Lizzo, Moor Mother, Sleigh Bells, S U R V I V E, Anna Meredith, Weezer, The Revolution's Prince tribute — even Garth Brooks. Here are 50 photos from the festival shot by Adam Kissick, with a few by our own Bob Boilen.

Nina Diaz and Y La Bamba's Luz Elena Mendoza have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David's Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we're beginning to wonder why not.

Over nearly two decades, Ireland's Bell X1 has mastered melodic indie pop that is bright, thoughtful and gracefully rough around the edges. It's one of the most played bands on Irish radio, it's sold out shows at home and abroad and its members have established families with kids. But to make their latest record, the members of Bell X1 had to pretend they were scrappy teenagers again.

The members of U2 are preparing a new tour to play some old songs — 30 years old, to be exact. Paul Hewson and David Evans, known to the world as Bono and The Edge, will be the first to tell you their band isn't normally fond of looking back.

The 1970s was an incredibly diverse decade for recorded music: from hippie folk at the start to disco, punk, the rise of reggae and the very first stirrings of hip-hop. At the beginning of the decade, Frank Sinatra had a song on the charts for 122 weeks. There was soft rock, metal and country. Album sales and progressive radio were huge.

All this is true. That's why it is so fascinating to look at the songs that ended up at the very top of Billboard's pop chart for each year of the decade — they certainly don't always represent all the change that was going on.

L.A. Salami sings and fingerpicks his acoustic guitar like an old truck winding through windswept blue highways. The British artist's debut album Dancing With Bad Grammar was one of Bob Boilen's top 10 albums of last year, saying it was a "hidden gem in 2016."

When PWR BTTM takes the stage, it doesn't take long to figure out what you're going to get. From the first glitter-smeared seconds of the set-opening "Silly," the band came to shred and swagger with infectious joy, complete with backbends and solos and spangly outfits — at least one of which wouldn't survive the band's set at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, recorded live for NPR Music Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, Feist's new album, Pleasure, was announced with a release date of April 28 — amusingly, to the surprise of Leslie Feist herself. Now we have the title track, her first new original song in six years.

NPR's Scott Simon spoke to James Cotton in 2013. Hear an encore of their conversation at the audio link.

Pages