Bob Boilen

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.

Significant listener interest in the music being played on All Things Considered, along with his and NPR's vast music collections, gave Boilen the idea to start All Songs Considered. "It was obvious to me that listeners of NPR were also lovers of music, but what also became obvious by 1999 was that the web was going to be the place to discover new music and that we wanted to be the premiere site for music discovery." The show launched in 2000, with Boilen as its host.

Before coming to NPR, Boilen found many ways to share his passion for music. From 1982 to 1986 he worked for Baltimore's Impossible Theater, where he held many posts, including composer, technician, and recording engineer. Boilen became part of music history in 1983 with the Impossible Theater production Whiz Bang, a History of Sound. In it, Boilen became one of the first composers to use audio sampling — in this case, sounds from nature and the industrial revolution. He was interviewed about Whiz Bang by Susan Stamberg on All Things Considered.

In 1985, the Washington City Paper voted Boilen 'Performance Artist of the Year.' An electronic musician, he received a grant from the Washington D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities to work on electronic music and performance.

After Impossible Theater, Boilen worked as a producer for a television station in Washington, D.C. He produced several projects, including a music video show. In 1997, he started producing an online show called Science Live for the Discovery Channel. He also put out two albums with his psychedelic band, Tiny Desk Unit, during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Boilen still composes and performs music and posts it for free on his website BobBoilen.info. He performs contradance music and has a podcast of contradance music that he produces with his son Julian.

Boilen's first book, Your Song Changed My Life, was published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

Gaelynn Lea is a violinist, a public speaker and an advocate for people with disabilities. She was born with brittle bone disease and that shapes the way she plays the violin, holding it upright, more like a cello than the traditional method under the chin.

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.

Guest DJ Week: Björk

Aug 16, 2017

Note: Our week of Guest DJs continues with Björk. The Icelandic singer recently announced she'll be releasing a new album, possibly before the end of the year.

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.

The first time I saw Christopher Paul Stelling his face was red and his eyes were wide, singing as if he were about to burst apart, as if he had so much to tell us and too little time, as if his mind was racing faster than his tongue could keep up with. He's a singer with the spirit of Woody Guthrie both deep within and showing on his sleeve. Stelling has a new collection of songs he has titled Itinerant Arias, which he says "sounds a lot better than 'travelin' songs,'" but that's exactly what they are. Songs which have in common no single origin, or sense of place.

I didn't know much about Gracie and Rachel on first hearing "Only A Child." There's a terrific tension in the sound, an underpinning of mystery set against a baroque, but modern, pop foreground. Then I discovered that Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles seemingly embody the schism I heard in their song — Rachel's dark, classic violin is set against Gracie's more upbeat pop piano.

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.

Red Baraat's fusion of bhangra, go-go, hip-hop and jazz is driven by frontman Sunny Jain's percolating playing of the dhol, a double-sided drum which forms the rhythmic lattice of support for their boisterous horns and guitar. And though Red Baraat graced the Tiny Desk five years ago, we had to have Jain's band back to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of color, of good over evil, and the coming of spring.

Here's a story of how a sentiment, the kernel of a piece, can blossom when the right person comes along. The songwriter is Minneapolis-by-way-of-Wisconsin's J.E. Sunde, but the key transformer was Monica Martin, of the band Phox.

We watched more than 6,000 videos. Ten judges weighed in. Now, the 2017 Tiny Desk Contest has a winner.

Sincerity, community and beauty is how I think of Lowland Hum; the sounds of Lauren and Daniel Goans. Thin is the husband and wife duo's third album since their 2013 debut, further refining their hushed harmonies and aural paintings. It's a sound that makes them a quiet Sunday-morning favorite. Some of the imagery comes from the beauty they see in the landscapes and locales they traverse and visit all over this country; art centers, cafes, nightclubs, house shows, racking up something like 45,000 miles in a Toyota Sienna between 2014 and 2015.

It's basically three chords banged out on a piano for 4 minutes. No drums, no guitars, no samples. But then: there's her voice. Haunting.

"Here is your princess / here is your horizon" — Aldous Harding repeats the line as a mantra, as a truth, as a reality. It's as if the gift of life is right here, with all its beauty and its limitations. At least that's how I see it.

We've officially closed the books on 2016 (finally), and we're ready to fall in love with some new music, from the big and hopeful to the crushingly sad.

The three women in The Wild Reeds love a good crescendo. They have three powerful upfront voices in Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe and they all write songs to honor and embrace their soaring voices. Since their Tiny Desk Concert a little more than a year ago, over a half of a million people have seen it on our YouTube Channel.

Julien Baker never imagined her sad songs would be loved beyond a small circle of friends.

Bob Boilen and I, along with the rest of the NPR Music team, have been prepping for our year-end coverage by listening to hundreds of songs and albums in one big shared playlist. Along the way, we've all discovered stuff we hadn't heard before — and even fallen in love with some of it.

Imagine being a singer — in this case, a singer of traditional British folk songs and murder ballads, songs of love, hate, revenge, redemption and tragedy. And as the singer of these songs, you get pretty well known in the circles of folk music in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now, imagine a broken heart robs you of your ability to sing. For 38 years, your voice — once beautiful — falls silent.

This is the story of the great Shirley Collins.

Patrick Jarenwattananon has been the backbone of our jazz coverage almost since NPR Music started in 2007. Patrick came to us as a 22-year-old intern and shortly after began covering legendary and rising jazz luminaries like a veteran journalist. His writing for A Blog Supreme captured the spirit of the jazz community and was a rich resource for thoughtful coverage on this living American musical culture.

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph's sound has grown beyond the Closners' harmonies. Now, you're likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.

This past week I was at the 17th annual Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville, listening to and having conversations with musicians. One songwriter and singer I've admired from the world of Americana during this decade is John Paul White, whom you may know as a former member of the duo The Civil Wars.

The Americana Music in Nashville is never quite what I think it will be. This week's All Songs starts with Yola Carter, a British singer of mixed race. Next is the white Australian C.W. Stoneking, sounding like blues legend Willie Dixon. The third song on the show is by Marlon Willams, a soulful young New Zealand singer. The common thread as we explore the newest and most promising voices at AmericanaFest is a love of folk, country, roots music, but how that gets interpreted varies, and that's where the fun is.

The Americana Music in Nashville is never quite what I think it will be. This week's All Songs starts with Yola Carter, a British singer of mixed race. Next is the white Australian C.W. Stoneking, sounding like blues legend Willie Dixon. The third song on the show is by Marlon Willams, a soulful young New Zealand singer. The common thread as we explore the newest and most promising voices at AmericanaFest is a love of folk, country, roots music, but how that gets interpreted varies, and that's where the fun is.

There's a long history of male singers with high lonesome voices, from boy choirs to Jimmie Rodgers, from Frankie Valli to Curtis Mayfield to Michael Jackson to The Weeknd.

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