Lars Gotrich

James Elkington's debut solo record took a long, side-winding path to completion.

Bill MacKay's become a stealth fixture on the Chicago music scene over the last decade and change. The guitarist deftly glides through folk, experimental rock and jazz in his band Darts & Arrows and has worked with everyone from Fred Lonberg-Holm and members of Bitchin' Bajas to a blossoming creative partnership with with Ryley Walker — they released an album of guitar duets in 2015.

Bert Jansch's percussive fingerpicking was rooted in traditional folk music, but he swung around melodies like a jazz musician, the rhythms swaying in his Scottish soul. Turns out that even skilled guitarists who admired Jansch couldn't figure him out.

The Texas Panhandle is windy and flat and full of sky, material ripe for country songs and buried Cadillacs.

Phoebe Bridgers was one of our top discoveries going into SXSW, a quiet and powerful voice in the loud din of the festival. After she performed at Central Presbyterian Church, a favorite venue among our staff, Bridgers and percussionist Marshall Vore came to Bob Boilen's hotel room just before midnight to play the striking "Smoke Signals."

To call what DakhaBrakha does "folk music" completely misses a world of inspiration and sound, both here on Earth and perhaps elsewhere. The mostly-acoustic, utterly unique Ukrainian band mixes traditions from its homeland, but goes wide too, with West African rhythms and Indian drones to create a wild, thrilling texture (especially live).

There is metal between those strings. In a video for "Limonium," Brooklyn-based composer Kelly Moran interrupts the stretched piano wire with corkscrews, forking the paths of sound.

Nina Diaz and Y La Bamba's Luz Elena Mendoza have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David's Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we're beginning to wonder why not.

Valerie June's "Astral Plane" was already made to be a lullaby, a softly swaying, country-tinged soul song that scrapes the stratosphere. On the studio version from The Order Of Time, it's dipped in gauzy guitar and keys.

This is some nasty, nasty jazz. Featuring saxophonist Matt Nelson (Battle Trance), bassist Tim Dahl (Child Abuse), and drummer Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast Of The Epiphany), GRID's debut album bubbles up from the East River like a toxic monster amalgamated from New York's improvised and extreme music scenes.

On more than one occasion, I've passed along James Toth's songwriting tips and tricks to help musician friends out of a rut. These are just a few of his actionable suggestions for a creative in crisis: "Put a capo on a random fret," "Write a song that sounds like what you imagine the unheard band/record sounds like, based solely on the description in the review," "Borrow an instrument from someone who plays the same one that you do."

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.

After much criticism around last year's round of '70s rockers and no women, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced its nominees for the class of 2017 this morning, which include first-time nominees Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Bad Brains, Joan Baez and Depeche Mode.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 8, the demons in two possessed men fear the judgment of God when they meet Jesus on a road in Gadara. "So the devils besought him, saying, 'If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.'" It's here that we curiously derive the adjective "Gadarene," which basically means to get involved in something in a hurry, with the potential for disaster.

Marisa Anderson's guitar is inextricably tied to the raw and seeking tradition of American music, even as she rolls and plucks and picks at the landscape with reverence and newness.

Love, lust and drugs are often used as metaphors for one another — "You Go To My Head," "Got To Get You Into My Life," "There She Goes" — with the understanding that each is addictive. We're stunned by it, we're naked without it, we can't live without it.

There is music in nature. Irv Teibel recorded, manipulated and sold nature as functional art; John Cage meditated on it ("My composing is actually unnecessary. Music never stops. It is we who turn away."); Annea Lockwood sonically maps rivers around the world.

Three silhouettes stretch across the flat earth, facing each other at a tense distance. Heat squiggles through the air like baby snakes dancing in the sand. The one facing west is long and cracked like old leather, his face determined but his eyes wet with worry. In a rush to claim his bounty, he's replenished his bullet belt, but has left his gun in the room where his antenna'd lover lies. He is thinking about last night, knowing it was likely his last.

South X Lullaby: A-WA

Mar 20, 2016

We first fell in love with A-WA in a badass video for their party song "Habib Galbi," complete with tasseled snapbacks on track-suited dancers. But at midnight during the SXSW music festival, the Israeli sister trio sang us a quiet lullaby in All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen's hotel room.

Doubt is the lens that refocuses purpose. This is especially true of faith and when it's tested — or rather, when an event or an environmental shift brings the core of one's being to the fore. After his mother died, singer-songwriter Tyson Mostenbocker walked six hundred miles of coastline from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco in memory of her; he also spent that time in a conversation with God, wondering if anyone was listening at all.

There's a little chuckle in Zane Campbell's heartbroken hiccup, a world of hurt and truth that is, against all sense, hilariously dark. Though the off-kilter folk and country singer-songwriter's career has spanned decades and is rooted deeply in his family (Campbell's aunt was the iconic Maryland folk musician, Ola Belle Reed), his eponymous 2015 album constitutes his recorded full-length debut.

Glenn Jones' music is remarkably intimate: It feels so close, you'd swear you could reach out and touch the airwaves vibrating between strings. After a decade in which Jones has flown solo on the guitar, his sixth album Fleeting illuminates textures in his thoughtful and complex compositions, which leap from the speakers more than ever before.

When listeners aren't writing to NPR to comment on a story, they mostly just want to know what music was played between segments. We call those buttons or breaks or deadrolls, and they give a breath after reporting a tragedy, lighten the mood after you most definitely cried during StoryCorps, or seize a moment to be ridiculously cheeky. How could you not play Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" following a story about why women shiver in the office?

It's been four years since James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg released Avos. The understated acoustic guitar duo record was exceptionally conceived and played, especially given that it was the first time the two met.

Cornwall looks like a pointy horn at the bottom of England, with a seaside that juts with geomorphic violence and beauty. Before moving to London, the folk band Red River Dialect called the region home for years. Those Cornish cliffs and raging sea waters are persistent metaphors for loss, freedom and reconciliation on Tender Gold and Gentle Blue, a quiet and desperate record that is always but a squall away from breaking apart.

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