NPR Music

A few years ago, my friend Jill Sternheimer and I started a conversation one night while driving around the streets of New Orleans. Both of us are music nerds, and we regularly attend the kinds of musical retrospectives that have become common in this age of historical exploration via tribute shows and historical playlists. Jill, in fact, often organizes such shows at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where she is the director of public programs. I sometimes write about them, and often ponder how music history's being recorded and revised in the digital age.

Stephen Stills and Judy Collins' duo album, Everybody Knows, marks the long-deferred continuation of a story that started nearly half a century ago. But the title track brings closure to a musical relationship that goes even farther back.

Recorded in Music City at RCA's legendary Studio A, Jason Isbell's latest album, The Nashville Sound, tackles issues like race and privilege, anxiety, sobriety, hope and family. (Isbell is married to Amanda Shires, a talented fiddle player and singer-songwriter who is also a member of Isbell's band, The 400 Unit; they have a toddler named Mercy.)

NOTE: Each day this week we'll be rolling out a series of videos from Sylvan Esso that comprise the duo's upcoming visual EP, Echo Mountain Sessions.

Chester Bennington, one of the lead singers for the band Linkin Park and a former singer for Stone Temple Pilots, has died. His death was confirmed to NPR Thursday afternoon by the Los Angeles County Coroner's office, which said that his body was discovered at a house in the 2800 block of Palos Verdes Estates in Los Angeles and that investigators are currently on the scene. The death is "being looked at as a possible suicide at this time," according to Brian Elias of the coroner's office. Bennington was 41 years old.

Who would doubt that Michael McDonald could still sound groovy and relevant while ushering the musical feel of 1978 into 2017? Only a fool.

Pardoner can't stop saving us from 'blah' punk. That's what Uncontrollable Salvation means, right? Or maybe Pardoner's some kind of Judge Dredd, a combination of judge, jury and savior whenever a perp is making lame punk crossed with '90s alt-rock.

Carlos Santana turns 70 years old Thursday. It's difficult to wrap my head around that: To me, as to so many other fans, he'll forever be the just-turned-22-year-old grimacing and grooving at Woodstock in August 1969.

Seratones On Mountain Stage

Jul 20, 2017

Shreveport, La., quartet Seratones makes its debut on Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences in Charleston, W.Va. Imagine if Yma Sumac's birdlike vocals carried Nirvana's guitar riffs in a run-down garage in Louisiana, and you'll get a sense of the psych-soul-rock produced by these musical hell-raisers. Given frontwoman A.J.

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.


Think of this three-disc set as The Rise of Elvis Presley: The Granular Detail Version.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Best Of The Best

Jul 19, 2017

From The Chieftains' vintage collection The Very Best Of The Claddagh Years to Dusk Till Dawn, which telescopes the long and successful career of Capercaillie, we explore some of Celtic-roots music's finest "best of" compilations.

You'll want to listen to this week's show on a good pair of headphones, preferably in the dark and, if you take drummer Ian Chang's advice, while getting a massage. We open the program with a spine-tingling cut called "ASMR," from Chang's debut solo EP, an arresting instrumental piece inspired by the inexplicable chills that sometimes run down your back. It's just the first in a series of sonic delights on the show.

At one point or another, we've all wondered what we'd be doing if we had made different choices. For most people, life rarely goes in a straight line; rather, it's made up of detours and false starts that help us collect experiences or lead to unforeseen opportunities. Take Madeline Kenney, who took a fascinatingly circuitous path before arriving at making music: She earned a degree in neuroscience, she initially moved from Seattle to the Bay Area to pursue a career as a professional baker, she painted and practiced modern dance — all while nannying to pay the bills.

A four-part, nearly five-hour documentary film that began airing on HBO earlier this month, The Defiant Ones functions as a quintessentially modern-American bildungsroman. Its broadcaster describes it as "a master class in how to work your way up from the bottom to beyond your wildest dreams." But stories like these — here, of the hip-hop legend Dr. Dre, born Andrew Young, and the record producer and music executive Jimmy Iovine — never are. If one possesses the talent and drive, they don't need to take notes.

"Here is musical sterility at its pinnacle. A band that has absolutely no soul, no feeling in the music," critic Lester Bangs declared in 1975. The target of his derision? The British progressive-rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Bangs disdained the band's objective, as he saw it, "to play pre-set solos as fast as you possibly can, [at] breakneck speed, and do it for about five hours."

True to its name, Wolves In The Throne Room has always painted between the lines of barbaric and regal. For over a decade it has been this between-space that has driven WITTR's power; burning black-metal riffs communing with mystical folk and ambient music.

"I know it's wrong, but I can't stop," Katie Von Schleicher groans in "Midsummer." Her album S***** Hits is full of such self-deprecating admissions; it's an album about looking out from inside your own delusions and bad habits, begging yourself to do better.

This week, World Cafe digs into the archives for some of its best sessions from the last several months — conversations and performances that were so good we decided to bring them back for a second listen. You'll hear sessions with Father John Misty, Alison Krauss, David Crosby and more.

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 might be easy to dismiss Declan McKenna as a young kid who writes catchy pop songs, but he's so much more than that. The 18-year-old Brit's debut album, What Do You Think About The Car?, proves that this young man has a tall talent for mixing politics, poetry and melody.

Fleet Foxes' lead singer, Robin Pecknold, says the band's new album, Crack-Up, is the kind of record he's always wanted to make. But it took a minute — six years, actually. The last Fleet Foxes album, Helplessness Blues, came out in 2011 and was a huge success. But after touring that record, at a point where bands traditionally head back to the studio to try and keep the momentum going, Fleet Foxes took a break. And that led to a few changes.

Surf rock and its outcroppings have a rich, if not somewhat surprising, history in the Pacific Northwest. Punk, surf and garage have been flourishing here for decades, birthing everything from The Kingsmen and The Ventures to early albums by Sleater-Kinney. With "Blame Myself," Guantanamo Baywatch pays homage to the tapestry of luminaries, and then promptly sets it right on fire.

With a meandering, six-minute-plus sci-fi-sounding opening track, it was clear that Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner was out to make music that was beyond the three-minute-pop found on her solo debut, Pyschopomp. The more I dug into Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Zauner's follow-up album, the more I wanted to know.

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