Tom Moon

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.

He is the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (Workman Publishing), and a contributor to other books including The Final Four of Everything.

A saxophonist whose professional credits include stints on cruise ships and several tours with the Maynard Ferguson orchestra, Moon served as music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1988 until 2004. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Blender, Spin, Vibe, Harp and other publications, and has won several awards, including two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Music Journalism awards. He has contributed to NPR's All Things Considered since 1996.

Since its premiere in 1918, Gustav Holst's symphonic cycle The Planets has effectively defined the informal genre of "music about space." But more recently, four prominent artists from different musical realms collaborated on a cosmic exploration of their own. It culminated in Planetarium, which was released earlier this month.

In 1959, the peak of his playing years, Thelonious Monk did something he'd never done before: record music for a film. Released in the U.S. as Dangerous Liaisons, the French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses featured nearly 30 minutes of Monk's music, none of which ever made it to a record. But the master tapes resurfaced last year, and were first released as a vinyl exclusive on Record Store Day this April.

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After a six-year hiatus, Canadian singer Feist is back. She's out with her fifth album. It's called "Pleasure," but that's a bit of a misdirection. Reviewer Tom Moon says the album explores the quest for inner-strength in the painful aftermath of romance.

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.


Bob Dylan is evidently not finished with his (grand, now exhaustive) inquiry into the Great American Songbook.

Stephen Bruner is a bass player, singer and songwriter who's as well known for his own music as for his collaborations. But when he released his latest solo single as Thundercat few weeks ago, those who know his work with Kendrick Lamar were scratching their heads. Here was a fiery visionary collaborating with two icons of easygoing '70s pop: Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald.

Over the years, music fans have slowly filled in details about a hard-working, mostly anonymous collective of Detroit studio musicians known as The Funk Brothers, who were the backing band for many of Motown's hit songs. Less documented is what these musicians did when they were not in the studio.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


Before he began the tour that's documented on the 36-disc set The 1966 Live Recordings, Bob Dylan was on record as being ambivalent about the road.

In 1963, Duke Ellington and his orchestra participated in a State Department "jazz diplomacy" tour of the Middle East. Inspired by the experience, Ellington and composer Billy Strayhorn wrote a collection of songs called The Far East Suite.

Every so often, you run across a collection that opens up an entirely new way to think about an artist. Jack White's new, 26-track retrospective, which focuses on his unplugged, less raucous songs, does just that. The unreleased songs, album tracks and B-sides that make up Jack White Acoustic Recordings, 1998-2016 offer a fresh window onto the work of the creative, prolific rock musician.

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Gregory Porter is a jazz singer who is pushing the boundaries of jazz singing. In the last few years, he's recorded with bluesman Buddy Guy, classic singer Renee Fleming and, most recently, with the U.K. electronic duo Disclosure.

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


Record-making is typically not a spectator sport.

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Son Little's music can be a little tricky to classify. One writer called him Sam Cook in outer space.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR LOVE WILL BLOW ME AWAY")

SON LITTLE: (Singing) Runaway, this afghan kush we're bubbling won't burn away.

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This is what made Ludovic Navarre famous 15 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE ROUGE")

MARLENA SHAW: (Singing) I want you to get together. I want you to get together.

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


Deep into Gazing With Tranquility, tucked between smart and sometimes overly reverent reinterpretations of Donovan's hits, there's a small performance that illustrates the value of the tribute record.

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

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Craig Finn is part of a quickly growing demographic group - aging indie rockers. He led the band Lifter Puller in the '90s and is still the front man of The Hold Steady. His breathless songs look at the indie rock scene with a romantic eye.

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When he started the Robert Glasper Experiment, the pianist was trying to blend hip-hop, jazz and R-and-B into a new sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHERISH THE DAY")

A few songs into the latest set of ready-to-wear rants from Neil Young, there's a moment when the rock star shares a bit of the advice he gets as he goes about his daily life — from fans, possibly, or a manager, or maybe the barista in his coffee shop.

Richard Thompson's 16th solo album Still closes with an unusual homage to his longstanding sources of inspiration. It's called "Guitar Heroes," and though it's predominantly a standard jump blues, it's laced with extended interludes in which Thompson — arguably the most under-appreciated guitar hero currently recording — tips his hat to Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and other titans.

For the last two years, pianist Ethan Iverson has been at the center of what looks, in hindsight, like a serious creative whirlwind. He re-conceptualized Stravinsky's ballet The Rite Of Spring in its entirety (!) for his trio The Bad Plus, and then, for good measure, recorded an album of all-original Bad Plus music (Inevitable Western).

For some people, gospel music is all about the message — of faith and forbearance, sin and salvation. For the members of the mostly instrumental supergroup known as The Word, gospel is more about a feeling. The group's long-awaited second album, Soul Food, is a rousing, thoroughly modern take on gospel.

Working as a music journalist means that some days you get to tell people, in breathless prose, about an incredible new record you've discovered. On other days, you have to tell people that an artist you've followed and respected for years is no longer living. That part is never any fun. Listening to the hushed, elegantly spare Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, I found myself transported back to the period right after Smith died, of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds, in 2003.

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Dylan The Crooner

Feb 3, 2015

Bard. Voice of a generation. Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years. With his new album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old aims for another title: crooner.

"Night Faces," the opening track from Jessica Pratt's extraordinary 2012 debut, showcased a singular ability to transform a worn-out cliche into something stirring. Just through the choices she made as a singer.

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