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.

I've never seen anyone play guitar quite the way Marian McLaughlin does, or sing the patterns she sings. After catching her live a few years ago, I thought this could either be someone naively noodling or deliberately taking an adventure. I've come to the conclusion it's a bit of both. You can see and hear how McLaughlin pulls this off in a new video for her song "Before You Leave."

You've probably never seen or heard an instrument like this. The Hindustani slide guitar is the creation of Debashish Bhattacharya, whose creation pairs his first love — a Hawaiian lap steel guitar, a gift from his father when he was only 3 — and the sounds of India. You can see the similarities to a lap steel guitar, as Bhattacharya lays the guitar across his legs, sliding a metal bar to create the fluid, almost vocal melodies.

After five decades of singing, Linda Thompson is still one of the best voices in folk music. Her tone is alluring, sometimes mournful, and always passionate. Her story is unlike anyone else's, beginning in England during the 1960s, and continuing with her marriage to Richard Thompson, when she recorded my favorite British folk albums ever, including 1975's Pour Down Like Silver.

He seemed so casual — sitting on a bar stool behind the Tiny Desk, acoustic guitar in hand — but when you hear that husky voice, you'll know why he's a legend. Oliver Mtukudzi, or "Tuku" as his fans lovingly call him, plays spirited music, born from the soul of Zimbabwe. He's been recording since the late 1970s, with about as many albums as his age: 60.

Joy Williams and John Paul White are The Civil Wars, a duo of passionate performers. The first time I saw them perform there were such positive sparks flying between them, but these days they can barely speak to one another. The Civil Wars are about to release a new album — their second and probably their last for a while or perhaps forever ... we shall see.

A few months ago, I reviewed a handful of new apps that show you which bands or artists are playing in your area. Some of those apps were hit-or-miss, and some have made some improvements since my initial review. This week All Songs Considered co-host Robin Hilton and I have pared the list of apps down to our two favorites. (You can hear us talk about it on the weekly series All Tech Considered.)

I wish I could say I first found Skinny Lister in a pub some late evening while folks were dancing on the tables. I trust that that happens, but my unforgettable experience with this kick-ass English folk-punk band was at a hotel lobby in midday, in the midst of a sober crowd in Austin, Texas.

There was an awful lot of dancing going on the first time I stumbled upon the music of Cheick Hamala Diabate. On the dance floor at U Street's Tropicalia that night was a rich cross-section of D.C. life, all entranced by the music of Mali.

Maya Beiser's Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She's a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she's tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove. Then there's her magnificent sense of melody.

The power of music paired with imagery never ceases to amaze me. For this video by Lowland Hum, three unrelated sets of found footage connect in powerful ways to the song "War Is Over."

How can music be happy and sad at the same time? Listen to Olafur Arnalds and you'll hear it. Depending on your mood, the tone changes, and a song that may have been uplifting one day sounds like an elegy the next. It's spacious, undeniably beautiful work. Much of the music performed in this concert, recorded on April 18 at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City, is drawn from the Icelandic musician's recent album For Now I Am Winter.

"'The World Is Changing' is groove with a message." That quote, a pretty good summary of the music of Femi Kuti in just nine words, comes from Juan Gélas, the creative director of a new video for Kuti's new song. Femi Kuti is a saxophonist, trumpeter, keyboard player and singer and songwriter. The son of legendary afrobeat musician Fela Kuti, he carries on the tradition of mixing Nigerian beats along with jazz and a healthy dose of politics. Juan Gélas says, "Femi Kuti continues to be a leading protest artist out of modern Africa and his voice talks to us all."

In a small, packed Washington, D.C., living room late one December night, I heard a cacophony of horns, keys, drums and guitars that simply floored me. It was brash, zany, brainy, scary and danceable. At the end of a long year of amazing live music, this would turn out to be one of the most memorable concerts I'd seen.

"Deep inside the heart of this crazy mess, I'm only calm when I get lost within your wilderness."

That's a key line in this song, "Joy," by Iron and Wine, the project of Sam Beam. Sam is a songwriter who has a way of making the personal very universal. It's also the line that piqued the interest of director Hayley Morris, who made a video for "Joy." Morris writes to us:

Blaudzun: NPR Front Row

Apr 4, 2013

The Dutch band Blaudzun had its work cut out for it at the SXSW Music Festival, as it somehow wound up opening for a March 15 showcase of Turkish music. But Blaudzun's songs are so undeniably infectious that, by the time the band played "Elephants" — the song featured in this Front Row video — the folks at Austin, Texas' Cedar Street Courtyard were singing and dancing to music they'd never heard before.

You're about to watch one of the best fiddlers on the planet and a subtle guitar master work their magic. For too many of us, Irish music is something that merely gets trotted out around this time of year, associated with St. Patrick's Day and the coming of spring — and made a cliche by commercialism and whatever other shallow notions make cliches what they are.

After hearing The Lone Bellow's self-titled debut, I couldn't wait to play it for friends and on All Songs Considered — I knew people would love it. Still, honestly, I was unprepared for the stunning power of the band's live show. When you see this Tiny Desk Concert, I'm sure you'll experience the same sensation I did. The Lone Bellow features three brilliant players, with Zach Williams singing every word as if it's the last time he'll ever get the chance.

"A transatlantic collaboration between four friends. Two songs were written and recorded in Chicago and then sent to Vienna. There they were translated into a film score."

The world of acoustic music is about to get a new household name. The music of The Lone Bellow is born from tragedy and told with heart and simplicity. Zach Williams, a singer and songwriter for this Brooklyn-based group, is originally from Georgia, and his words began to flow following his wife's catastrophic horse riding accident that nearly left her paralyzed. Listen to The Lone Bellows' song "Two Sides of Lonely," from the band's forthcoming self-titled album.

Erin McKeown's music is a bit hard to describe. It is music and lyrics with meaning so it makes me think, but it's also playful and so it makes me smile. I'll have another chance to hear it soon, since Erin has made a new record, called MANIFESTRA. The album, her seventh, was funded by her fan base via PledgeMusic and will be out on January 15. Today we premiere her song, "Jailer."

One of my favorite performers, Patrick Watson is dramatic but understated; deadly serious but unexpectedly candid and funny. And the music feels so warm, with melodies that haunt and enchant. The singer-pianist and his band put out a new record in 2012, Adventures in Your Own Backyard, and it's one of my favorites of the year.

This is a languid gem of a song paired with very disturbing video. The music, "Even If We Try," is by Night Beds, the project of Winston Yellen. Yellen is a Colorado Springs musician now making his home in Nashville. In fact the songs on the debut album from Night Beds, Country Sleep, were written and partially recorded in Tennessee at the former Sycamore Homestead in Tennessee of Johnny Cash.

Ben Sollee is not only an unconventional cellist, but also an unconventional human being. Recently, he took his cello, walked up the long steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the mall in D.C. (along with the Mason Jar Music film crew) and began to perform. It's not legal to do that, but like I said, Ben Sollee — the guy who bikes his cello across the country — is not a follower. The following video captures the moments in the shadow of Lincoln amid a throng of tourists.

From Ben Sollee:

I just saw Red Baraat play their new song, Shruggy Ji, at a brand new club in Washington, D.C. I don't think the incessant go-go rhythm fell on any deaf ears here in the birthplace of go-go. It certainly didn't for me, just blocks away from the record store where I worked, and where we'd blast go-go bands like Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown, back in the late '70s. For the Brooklyn nine-piece, this sound isn't a sharp right turn. Their mix of music already goes from Indian bhangra, (itself a mix of Punjabi music and western music) to New Orleans big band music.

Spirit Family Reunion was my favorite find at this year's Newport Folk Festival. The group makes music I'd call "new old-timey," but which its members call "open-door gospel" — gospel music that's not tied to any particular religious denomination.

Attention fans of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show: You are bound for glory! Big Easy Express is a new film featuring all three bands and their whistle-stop journey from Oakland to New Orleans aboard a vintage train.

Daniel Johnston is a troubled soul with a talent for writing honest, disarmingly direct songs. Kurt Cobain famously wore a T-shirt with the title of a Johnston cassette on it, while Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips ranks among his many musical admirers. M.

I discovered Arborea amid a sea of 1,300 songs that I heard in preparation for South by Southwest. The music stood out for its calm beauty, its rough edges, and the duo's ability to speak eloquently of life's precious moments, about the sea, and about wonder.

Music can be a beautiful conversation — rarely is that more evident than in this Tiny Desk Concert performance with the father-son duo of Pedro Soler and Gaspar Claus. Soler plays a delicate, intimate version of flamenco guitar, while his son turns the cello into an exquisitely expressive voice. Though 45 years separate them, pay attention to how they communicate. Music as a living language, and an invisible emotional exchange, is clearly apparent in these improvisational compositions.

Here's what's surprising about guitarist Nathan Salsburg: He writes passionate instrumental tales about racehorses and turns them into accessibly eclectic tunes. With a brilliant debut album (Affirmed) full of intricate and melodic fingerpicking, Salsburg is likely to become one of those names we all associate with American folk guitar.

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