NPR Music

"Definitely cowboy poetry was something I got interested in." Well, that's one way to describe an ancient Greek epic.

When Tracy Chapman released her self-titled, debut album back in 1988, the 24-year old singer was widely praised for her acute observations on the struggles of working class Americans. The album was political and, for some, possessed the kind of anthems that could spark a revolution. Not long after releasing her album, Chapman sat down with NPR's Margot Adler to talk about both the singer's growing popularity and her battle against stereotypes as a black woman with a strong voice in the predominantly white world of modern folk.

Breaking news this morning: Dan Auerbach has been abducted by aliens to compete in intergalactic demolition derbies.

Laura Marling has always been a seeker. The English folk singer made her name as a teenager in early 2000's, writing delicate, contemplative songs that draw heavily from books and art. Marling says she was living in Los Angeles when she met her muse — or several of them, really.

"I think it was a time when I was meeting a lot of incredibly talented women, and wondering whether they have a unique approach to their discipline because of their femininity," she says.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


It's somewhat rare to find three singers so in sync as The Wild Reeds' Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe. Rarer still is the trio's songwriting skills; think Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Sylvan Esso On World Cafe

Mar 29, 2017

Sure, the incredibly intuitive duo Sylvan Esso is releasing its second album, What Now, on April 28, but here's something even better: a chance to hear the new songs before the record's out. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn — on voice and electronics, respectively — performed a selection live in concert at World Cafe's recent 25th anniversary celebration.

Last fall, the Nobel Committee for Literature announced that its newest honoree would be Bob Dylan, immediately generating heated debates on whether he deserved the prize.

The Texas Panhandle is windy and flat and full of sky, material ripe for country songs and buried Cadillacs.

Where Have All The Bob Seger Albums Gone?

Mar 29, 2017

There was no such thing as Classic Rock in 1976 — the phrase, and the radio format it inspired, wouldn't come into common usage until the mid-1980s. But there was already some notion of a rock and roll canon, a list of key albums that FM listeners needed to have in their collection. At the start of 1976, Bob Seger had zero albums on that list. Twelve months later, he had two: Live Bullet, the double LP documenting some blistering hometown sets at Detroit's Cobo Hall, and Night Moves, his first platinum album, whose title single would peak at No. 4 as 1977 began.

Andrew Bird On Mountain Stage

Mar 29, 2017

Folk virtuoso Andrew Bird returns to Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. It's been more than 15 years since Bird made his debut on the program with his independent baroque-pop group Bowl of Fire.

The lyrics to "Just A Gwen," from Atlanta pop band Art School Jocks, may ring familiar to women. As guitarist Dianna Settles sings, over slinky, surf-y guitars and a dead-steady beat:

Carry your keys
Between your knuckles
You never know who's trying to follow you home
Smile back and
Say you're sorry
You shouldn't be out this late alone

For 30 years, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips has been pulling musical ideas from his giant hamster ball, guiding his merry band through creative ups and downs.

Two Inch Astronaut works quickly! Just about one year since the release of Personal Life, the suburban D.C. post-punk band already has album number four in the bag. Can You Please Not Help continues the pop-focused mind-meld of previous efforts with monster hooks and a musicianship that only comes with a boatload of experience.

Don't call it a throwback; call it "American music that never died." With a mix of ragtime, jazz, country blues and Western swing, St. Louis multi-instrumentalist Pokey LaFarge breathes new life (and charm) into traditional roots music. In his third appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live in Charleston, W.Va., LaFarge leads his six-piece band in a rip-roaring performance of "Hard Times Come And Go."

SET LIST

Slowdive's first album in 22 years is starting to come along quite blissfully, and now it has a name. A calmly geometric, geologic video for "Sugar For The Pill" announces Slowdive, not to be confused with the band's eponymous EP from 1990.

Rose Cousins has an arresting voice that gets right under your skin. She hails from Canada's eastern coast, near the Atlantic Ocean. Just like that body of water, her music is spacious, expansive and liquid. Her last full-length album, We Have Made A Spark, came out to rave reviews in 2012 and propelled her into a couple years of constant touring. When that period was over, Cousins was burned out.

In July 2015, the music industry moved its formal release day for new records from Tuesdays to Fridays. These days, though, it seems like almost every day is New Music Day. Keeping track of all this new music can be a challenge, but that's why we love being music fans.

Valerie June started performing in the Memphis club scene when she was still a teenager. She's a New Yorker now, with a vocal style that takes traditional blues, country and soul and pushes them into another realm.

We first met Becca Stevens when she sang a show-stopping solo vocal line on a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" during a World Cafe session with David Crosby. She was part of Crosby's young, Brooklynite backing band, and we were thrilled to learn that they also write songs together.

Peace. It's a powerful word and a powerful idea. When you find it — if you're lucky enough to find it — you, understandably, never want to let it go.

In her quietly hopeful love song, "All The Beds I've Made," Nashville-based songwriter Caroline Spence sings about feeling a little bewildered, a little wary and very grateful to have, quite unexpectedly, discovered total peace in a romantic relationship.

Nighttime is restless. Even in our sleep, we are moving in our dreams, or involuntarily flopping around the bed disturbing a loved one, be it a significant other, a dog. Lullabies are written to calm these restless minds, but maybe they should also recognize the motion of the day.

Nick Hakim begins with a bit of a fake-out — languorous strings like something out of a Stars Of The Lid record rumble from a sampler, somber and hesitant. But as he begins to sing in a heartbroken falsetto, surrounded by optical fibers hanging from the ceiling of SXSW's Optic Obscura installation by Raum Industries, the ambient intro morphs into a quiet, psychedelic croon.

For more than a decade, the members of The Builders And The Butchers have specialized in a kind of white-knuckle Americana: Their acoustic folk-rock sound is shot through with nervy, hellfire-and-brimstone intensity.

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