NPR Music

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.

Beck On World Cafe

Nov 22, 2017

According to Beck, listening to his new album Colors may feel like "jogging in a glass box while there is a blizzard outside and you are wearing a form-fitting body suit ... maybe there are some wolves trying to get in or something." Unpredictable and a little wacky? Yep, but that's Beck. Ever since his 1993 song "Loser" brought rap, sitar, steel guitar and a little Spanish together in what became a surprise hit, he's continued to surprise his fans.

You may have seen him standing on stage, signature headscarf resting low just above the eyebrows, sharing a microphone with The Boss as a member of The E Street Band; or portraying Silvio Dante on The Sopranos; or Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano in Lillyhammer.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn's new album is called Echo In The Valley. Both artists have built lives on squeezing more sound, story and emotion out of the banjo than you may have thought possible — she in the clawhammer style of her hero Doc Watson, and he from the three-finger school of Earl Scruggs.

I'm so happy to share our latest session with David Crosby. He made me howl with laughter, he's got so much heart, and he was truly generous in sharing his stories. Crosby is here to talk about his new album, Sky Trails, which features some of his contemporary collaborators — Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, Mai Agan, and Michael League of Snarky Puppy. But we covered a lot of ground on Crosby's formative cronies, too, including The Byrds, Crosby Stills & Nash, Miles Davis, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell.

Willie Watson feels his way through America's musical history by sliding an old bottleneck against the strings of his acoustic guitar. He finds it in the grain of his own voice, cultivated over 20 years of singing old songs his own way. First as a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now in his own solo career, Watson has brought folk-based roots music alive for new listeners in the 21st century.

We're in South Louisiana — somewhere between Arnaudville and Leonville — in the backyard of Louis Michot, looking out at his pond. In 1999, Louis and his brother Andre co-founded the band Lost Bayou Ramblers. And the sounds we hear in their backyard in the bayou actually appear on their latest album, Kalenda. So does music, of course; the band isn't here to play the cricket or the frog — more like Louis on the fiddle and vocals and Andre on accordion and lap steel guitar. But the music really does take you to a real place.

It's no secret that we're fans of The Oh Hellos here at NPR Music.

November means different weather to different places, so it's presumptuous to assume that everyone is looking forward to an evening spent bundled up in front of the fireplace with a pile of fleece blankets and a cup of hot cocoa. But if you want to simulate the spirit of a cozy November night, you could do far worse than "Winter," the tenderly rendered new single from Irish singer-songwriter Rosie Carney.

It was my pleasure to talk music with Steve Winwood, one of the creative architects of prog rock. His career includes groundbreaking work with Traffic and Blind Faith; a solo career in the '80s; and writing standards like "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "I'm A Man" when he was still a teenager.

In this session, we hear songs from Steve's new double album Winwood: Greatest Hits Live, and we use that as a jumping-off point to talk about Traffic, Eric Clapton and more. Listen in the player above.

The season of list-making, specifically (for us) lists about the year's best music, is rapidly descending. But before the craziness begins over who had the best album or song in 2017, we thought we'd look back at some of our previous top-ten lists to see if they even hold up. As you can imagine, some albums we once thought were great have since lost their luster, while others haven't aged a day.

"The value of Death," wrote songwriter Sean Bean, of Boston's Bad History Month, in a dense, intimate introduction to new album Dead and Loving It, "is that it's an infallibly reliable fixed point on the horizon to navigate by when I'm lost at sea."

William Patrick Corgan would be the first to admit that many people's image of him was locked down back in 1995 as Billy Corgan: frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins. The Pumpkins had just released Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the album with the song "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" -– you know, the one where despite all his rage, he's still just a rat in a cage?

His Electro Blue Voice is as meditative as it is menacing, the Italian noise-rock band's collection of high-strung scrapes and howls driven by motorik percussion. Mental Hoop, its second record following Ruthless Sperm and a series of EPs, draws back on the pleasantries and dives headfirst into the nastier end of the band's sound.

Chris Forsyth On World Cafe

Nov 9, 2017

After many albums over the last two decades with many and varied lineups — the band Peeseye, solo, in duo, amongst many other configurations — Chris Forsyth has settled down some, playing and releasing with The Solar Motel Band for a few albums now. That includes his latest, from this year, Dreaming In The Non-Dream.

For this session, recorded during a WXPN Free At Noon Concert at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Pa., Forsyth brought his three-piece band, with Matt Stein on bass and Ryan Jewell on drums. Hear the interview and performance in the player above.

Pere Ubu On Mountain Stage

Nov 9, 2017

Formed in 1975, trend-setting "Avant Garage" rockers Pere Ubu emerged from Cleveland, Ohio, with an eccentric sound that has sustained four decades of orchestral blue-collar rock, infused with synths, layers of guitar, and the distinct vocal style of David Thomas.

Heard here is Pere Ubu's appearance on Mountain Stage with Larry Groce, recorded and broadcast live from Charleston, W.Va., on Oct. 6, 1991.

Those close to Adrianne Lenker know her by many names. The lead singer of Big Thief is Anne or Anna sometimes to her parents; Anna or Annie to her grandmother. She's Dran to her sister and brother, and Lunx to her college bandmates. She's Charlie sometimes to Mat Davidson of Twain, who opened at the first Big Thief show, and 'Aderrianne' to Max Oleartchik, the bassist in her own band. "She's probably many things to many people," an old teacher of hers from Berklee College of Music says. She calls her Adriannie.

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.

This past spring Grandaddy released its first album since taking a 10-year hiatus. It's called Last Place, and features everything that has made Grandaddy great since they formed and released their first cassette tape in 1992 — the meeting of fuzzed-out indie rock and the lo-fi psychedelia of video games.

For Johanna Warren, spirituality and humanity are inextricable from each other: "it's all energy," as she writes in an email to NPR. The Portland singer-songwriter has been around a while — her voice, clear as water, has shadowed the records of Iron & Wine, Natalie Merchant and Julie Byrne.

Dan Wilson On Mountain Stage

Nov 8, 2017

Dan Wilson made his first appearance on Mountain Stage in March 1992 as a member of Minneapolis-based Trip Shakespeare. Wilson would go on to find major label success and commercial airplay with Semisonic before becoming one of the most in-demand co-writers, producers and arrangers for pop and rock musicians.

Sonic Boomerang: Is that, like, Sonic the Hedgehog's new weapon? A new shake from that burger drive-in? Psychedelic punk-rock whipped into the abyss and returned with aerodynamic force?

For years, Kal Marks was the loudest band in Boston. Though it's hard to fathom, as bands like Pile hammered away on post-hardcore songs and Guerilla Toss shrieked through electronics-driven art-rock, Kal Marks charged through songs of exhaust and hopelessness from behind a wall of amps, a fervor that other artists couldn't match. The trio prioritized volume over all else — it's been their shtick, if it's fair to call it that — and frontman Carl Shane has no problem saying such.

Pages