Bob Boilen

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.

Anna & Elizabeth are almost single-handedly resurrecting the "crankie." If, like me, you didn't know what a "crankie" was, it's like a mural on a spool — each drawn and crafted to be hand-cranked and unfurled at the pace of a song. The effect, as experienced here in "Lella Todd Crankie," is breathtaking.

They came to the Tiny Desk a bit groggy, having been up late playing music in the hotel the night before. It's what Frank Fairfield and his friends Tom Marion and Zac Sokolow do when they're together. And the music they make is casual and mostly hand-me-down songs from well before Fairfield was born nearly 30 years ago.

There's sweetness to Madisen Ward And The Mama Bear's music that makes me smile, and then there's so much more. I first saw the Kansas City mother-and-son duo perform last fall in Nashville's Blue Room, a small, perfect-sounding stage at Third Man Records. The bluesy roots of the music suited the space, and the sound — with young Madisen Ward's powerful, quivering voice backed by his mother Ruth — had a homespun feel.

Christopher Paul Stelling is a brilliant fingerpicker with a message: "I know my work is never done, 'til I can see the good in everyone." That's the heart of his new song, "Hard Work," and the setting for this live, one-take performance couldn't be simpler: his tiny NYC kitchen. The song comes from his stirring album, Labor Against Waste, which is out on June 16.

There's a quiet and a calm from José González that amplify his words. This has never been truer than on his new album, Vestiges & Claws. The songs are full of abstract imagery — more paintings than stories. He performed this song, "With The Ink of A Ghost," at my desk.

Idle as a wave
Moving out at sea
Cruising without sound
Molding what's to be
Serene between the trace
Serene with the tide and ink of a ghost

People always ask me, "What's your favorite Tiny Desk Concert?" Well, right now it's the one recently performed by DakhaBrakha. The creative quartet from Kiev, Ukraine make music that sounds like nothing I've ever heard, with strands of everything I've ever heard. There are rhythms that sound West African and drone that feels as if it could have emanated from India or Australia. At times, DakhaBrakha is simply a rock band whose crazy homeland harmonies are filled with joy.

Written as a farewell to her home in California, Lauren Shera's "Light and Dust" introduces the new direction she took on her third studio album, Gold and Rust.

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