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, will be published in April 2016 by HarperCollins.

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.

On River Whyless' masterful second album, We All The Light, four ego-less musicians blend their talents on violin, guitars, drums, harmonium, cello, banjo, toy piano and (most importantly) vocal harmonies to make a record steeped in the American acoustic tradition. And, though I first came across the Asheville, N.C., band at a small club in Nashville during AmericanaFest 2015, River Whyless doesn't play country, folk or roots rock.

There's new music from The Tallest Man On Earth. Though the song, "Rivers" feels familiar, there's an immediacy here, as though singer Kristian Matsson quickly captured a passionate moment in time. The voice is rawer and homespun, with lovely horns and piano accompanying a tale about leaving.

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

Paul Simon has a new album coming out and it's wonderful. Titled Stranger To Stranger, it's his thirteenth solo release and he told me he it could be his last, at least for a while. For this week's +1 podcast, I sat with Paul Simon at NPR's New York bureau to talk about the new record, but more specifically to talk about a single song on the album, the puzzling and quirky opening cut, "The Werewolf."

There is new music from Gregory Alan Isakov, the South African-born, Philadelphia and Colorado troubadour. It's an album with the Colorado Symphony and his band. This song, "Liars" was written by Ron Scott and will be on Gregory's new album Gregory Alan Isakov with the Colorado Symphony.

At first, it's an unlikely pairing. I think of Sam Amidon unadorned, his yearning voice perhaps paired with a guitar, banjo or fiddle. On the other hand, San Fermin, the project of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, is about the mighty power of great arrangements and orchestration. It took Sam's young son to pull the two sounds together for this song new collaboration, along with words taken from a poem called "Against Winter" by poet Charles Simic. Ellis Ludwig-Leone wrote to us, describing the simple beginnings of this new song:

The Ballroom Thieves is a folk trio with a cellist at its core. Singer Calin Peters and her bandmates, guitarist Martin Earley and percussionist Devin Mauch, have now teamed up with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra on a music video for its song "Bury Me Smiling," and the combination makes for a compelling song.

It's been a good year.

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

"These are just the strongest melodies and the strongest ideas that occurred to me over a three to four year period, distilled."

When The Oh Hellos piled out of a van at NPR, someone remarked that it was like a clown car: Band members just kept coming, including brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath and their mom. They were all road-weary, trading sniffles, coughs and more. But the nine-piece group brought anthemic joy to the Tiny Desk in the form of buoyant songs whose underpinnings could still be dark and lonely.

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special. The Wild Reeds' music shines when Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe harmonize, but each also takes a leading role — and that's the power of the L.A. band, whose songs are clear and memorable, potent and sometimes delicate.

As technology rules the sound of the day, it's good to be reminded how powerfully a single voice can transmit deep emotion. Joan Shelley made one of the most beautiful records of the year with just her voice and two guitars.

The Watkins Family Hour began a dozen or so years ago as a way for a group of friends to get together and play old and new tunes. For Sean and Sara Watkins, it served as a monthly bit of magic: a musical variety show filled with extraordinary talent in the world of folk, bluegrass and beyond at L.A.'s famous Largo.

NPR Music is in Nashville all this week for the 16th annual AmericanaFest. So the newest episode of All Songs Considered offers a big bundle of music from some of the acts who are playing the festival that the team is most excited to see. Before leaving D.C., Bob called up NPR Music's Ann Powers and NPR Music contributor Jewly Hight in Music City to talk about what Americana means, and who its newest and most promising voices are.

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