Archive For The “Music” Category

Anna St. Louis On World Cafe

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Anna St. Louis On World Cafe
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  • “Understand”
  • “Fire”
  • “The Bells”

Willie Nelson, Mazzy Star and Neil Young have all inspired today’s guest to make inviting music that carries an air of mystery, nostalgia and ease. Anna St. Louis started writing songs when she moved to LA about five years ago. Her debut full-length album, If Only There Was a River, came out earlier this year. It was produced by Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby, who Anna knows from her hometown of Kansas City, Mo.

In this session, hear Anna perform stripped down solo versions of her songs with the warmth of wool socks and hot toddies in early December. That, and more, in the player.

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Vote For Your Favorite Albums Of 2018

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Vote For Your Favorite Albums Of 2018

What are your five favorite albums (or EPs) that came out in 2018? Using the form below, write in and rank the five releases you loved most this year. Your No. 1 favorite album/EP goes in the first space, your second-favorite in the second, and so on. We’ll tally the votes and share the results here on Thursday, Dec. 13.

Check back later this week for NPR Music’s Top 50 Albums and Top 100 Songs. Our All Songs Considered Year-In-Review roundtable is now online.

Note that this poll will close at 12:01 a.m. ET, Monday, Dec. 10.

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Gussie Clarke Says Reggae Spreads A Universal Message

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Gussie Clarke Says Reggae Spreads A Universal Message

Gussie Clarke has been a leading reggae producer and music publisher since the 1970s.

Courtesy of Neil Williams


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Courtesy of Neil Williams

Reggae is known by many as Jamaica’s most recognizable and influential musical genre. And now it has been officially recognized by the United Nations.

This past week, reggae earned an entry on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The list is meant to “enhance the visibility of traditions from various communities without recognizing standards of excellence or exclusivity” as outlined on this year’s list.

With the selection, reggae music is joining hundreds of other traditions from around the globe, including embroidery art from Tajikistan, tamboradas drum-playing rituals in Spain and pottery skills of the women of Sejnane in Tunisia. UNESCO dubbed reggae music as a “vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice” and “a voice for all.” Augustus “Gussie” Clarke, a reggae producer and one of the leading advocates for reggae to be recognized on the list, agrees.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Clarke spoke with Michel Martin about the significance of the moment.

Interview Highlights

On the importance of UNESCO recognition

As with any innovation, recognition needs to be placed at the head of those who created it. So as a country, we are somewhat of a cultural powerhouse. So we felt that it was appropriate for it to be recognized.

On what makes the genre unique

It tells us about struggle… and you know, love your brother and be a good guy. So it’s the message in the music. A lot of people who have learned of reggae just don’t even sometimes understand, but it’s the beat; it’s very infectious and it catches you. I mean, reggae is so much of an individual culture and it can extend to the wider culture. For example, if we have the same set of the musicians today playing the same song and tomorrow they are playing the same song but feel in a different mood, you will get a different song and not the same. So it is subject to the feel, the mood, of the individuals at the time of which they are creating what they are creating.

On reggae entering elite spaces

It just simply means it has crossed borders, boundaries, cultures. There are persons who, for example, extremely well-off, might be one of the richest persons in the world and might not be happy, but they are reggae songs that carry the kind of message that makes them feel good. There might be persons who are pretty poor and reggae gives them the vibe, the feeling to work hard to rise up to the occasion and be better than what they are. So getting to the world front it means that it has crossed so many boundaries of social, economical, cultural, political and it has a space in every different weird lands because it’s not a one dimensional message.

Elizabeth Baker and Natalie Winston produced and edited this story for broadcast. Cameron Jenkins adapted it for digital.

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University Of Michigan Ensemble 'Gives A Voice' To Nazi Prisoners Through Unearthed Music

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University Of Michigan Ensemble 'Gives A Voice' To Nazi Prisoners Through Unearthed Music

Professor Patricia Hall and graduate student Joshua DeVries discuss the music manuscript for “The Most Beautiful Time Of Life” at University of Michigan.

University of Michigan


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University of Michigan

While conducting research deep in the archives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland last summer, Patricia Hall, a music theory professor at the University of Michigan, discovered something unexpected. Professor Hall unearthed manuscripts of music arranged and performed by prisoners in the Nazi death camps. A buoyant foxtrot titled “The Most Beautiful Time Of Life” stood out to Hall, and has now been recorded by Michigan’s Contemporary Directions Ensemble. The ironically optimistic titles of the compositions amidst their tragic context surprised Hall. “I just couldn’t imagine what titles like that were doing in a death camp,” Hall says.

As Professor Hall looked over the manuscript, she noticed three prisoners had carefully written out parts in ink. It was then that she decided to call upon musicians and conductors at the university to make a recording for the archive and, in Hall’s words, “give a voice to this manuscript.”

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Two of the arrangers signed their prisoner numbers to their work, making it possible for Professor Hall to track down their names. The musicians’ distinctive handwriting allowed the professor to identify other compositions they had a role in, even if they didn’t sign their prisoner numbers to pages. However, details surrounding the third arranger remain sparse. “He’s a bit of a mystery and I would love to know who he is,” Hall says.

But even if their musical talents were appreciated by the Nazis, Hall says many of the musicians of Auschwitz were not spared from the camp’s brutalities.

“There was one particularly sadistic SS member in the camp who would take out member after member from the orchestra take them to block 11, the execution block, and shoot them,” Hall explains.

The archive in which Hall conducted this emotionally taxing research is located in block 25, where the musicians slept. The original tile floor remains, as does the weight of the prisoners’ horrific experiences. But the tenacity of the Auschwitz I Orchestra now lives on through the University of Michigan’s “The Most Beautiful Time Of Life” recording, which hasn’t been heard since it was first arranged and performed by prisoners in the World War II death camp.

“It’s one thing to study something in an archive, but it’s quite another to, as I say, give it a voice, give it life,” Hall says. “I never would have imagined, just looking at this manuscript, that it could have sounded so beautiful.”

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On 'Warm,' Jeff Tweedy Confronts His Shadow Self

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On 'Warm,' Jeff Tweedy Confronts His Shadow Self

Jeff Tweedy’s WARM is out now via dBpm Records.

Whitten Sabbatini/Courtesy of the artist


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Jeff Tweedy, frontman for Chicago’s beloved Wilco, has released his first solo album of original music. WARM, out now, is a stripped-down version of Tweedy’s signature alt-rock sound.

The 11-track album goes from bright to dark and all shades in between. Tweedy tackles stories of his troubled childhood in Belleville, Ill., soundtracks his own struggles with drug addiction and delivers it all with twang and the appropriate dash of practical humor.

Earlier this month, Tweedy also released his memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back) A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc., which he wrote at the same time as creating WARM. Tweedy says working in two different mediums in tandem forced him to tell his stories clearly “as opposed to coloring in around the edges.”

Tweedy spoke with NPR’s Scott Simon about using music to cope, appreciating the exercise of prose writing and more. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Interview Highlights

On listeners connecting to WARM

I think when naming the record WARM… [I’m] not necessarily hoping someone will come to it and warm up to it, but I think it was more trying to communicate that there’s some warmth to the record that I’m trying to connect them to from myself. Reaching out a little bit more explicitly than I have on a lot of my work. Just trying to find something recognizable and universal in the particulars of my specific time on this planet, I suppose.

On going with your instincts

That image [of seeing my twin] appears in a couple of songs on the record. To me, it kind of represents this shadow self that we all have, I believe we all have, that we tend to dismiss and ignore. And I’m convinced that the more we’re able to acknowledge some of our base, or instincts, and the parts of ourselves that we don’t like as much, I feel like being able to acknowledge that and work on that is a recipe for maybe a happier life. I’m fascinated with the idea that there’s a shadow self that is actually the part that you should be a little bit more concerned about keeping an eye on.

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On music as a healthy coping mechanism

I feel like I really was very fortunate to have found music to be such a consolation and a sustaining kind of thread through my life that has, in the parlance of maybe having had a little bit too much therapy, it’s a conflict-free zone of some sort.

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Who Is Ariana Grande? 'Thank U, Next' Video Nods To 'Mean Girls' And More

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Who Is Ariana Grande? 'Thank U, Next' Video Nods To 'Mean Girls' And More
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Hannah Lux Davis
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For the past week, Ariana Grande‘s Instagram account has been flooded with behind-the-scenes photos from the “thank u, next” video set. After the viral single went platinum, the singer took to social media to assure fans, “Don’t worry… You’re still getting a video.”

A trailer (watch below) later appeared, stylized as the “Who is Regina George?” scene from the 2004 teen comedy Mean Girls. However, instead of the students of North Shore High gossiping about queen bee Regina George, this time it’s Ari. “Ariana Grande told me my hair looks sexy pushed back. She’s not wrong,” Jonathan Bennett, who plays Aaron Samuels in the movie, says. Troye Sivan later follows with, “I heard she’s a lesbian now and dating some chick called Aubrey. It’s f****** sick.”

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Now, the full, cameo-heavy video for “thank u, next” (directed by Hannah Lux Davis) has finally dropped. Grande poses as Regina George, and Mean Girls‘ infamous “Burn Book” — from which the single’s artwork draws inspiration — makes an appearance, albeit with a slightly more positive spin. In addition to pulling from Mean Girls, the visual treatment pays homage to other early-2000s rom-coms 13 Going On 30, Legally Blonde and Bring It On.

Grande previously posted a selfie on Twitter with the caption “big time magazine editor,” which is followed by Jenna Rink’s beloved dollhouse, featured in 13 Going On 30. A retro orange MacBook and Elle Woods’ dog Bruiser represent Legally Blonde, capped off by Jennifer Coolidge (a.k.a. Paulette) flawlessly performing her patented bend and snap in the salon. The East Compton Clovers, who include “thank u, next” co-writer Tayla Parx, square off against their Bring It On rival squad the Toros.

Amid all the movie associations, there’s also a nod to Victorious, the Nickelodeon sitcom from which Grande got her start as a pop artist. Her former co-stars Elizabeth Gillies (Jade) and Matt Bennett (Robbie) both make appearances in “thank u, next.”

The music video follows up the Nov. 27 premiere of Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman Diaries, directed by her friend and photographer Alfredo Flores. The four-part series documents Grande’s 2017 Dangerous Woman Tour, which includes concert footage, the “One Love Manchester” show and the creation of her latest album, Sweetener. A new episode will be released every week on Grande’s YouTube channel.

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Lori McKenna On World Cafe

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Lori McKenna On World Cafe

Lori McKenna

Becky Fluke/Courtesy of the artist


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  • “Young And Angry Again”
  • “The Fixer”
  • “Humble And Kind”
  • “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone”
  • “People Get Old”

Today, a Cinderella story, but with a glass cowboy boot for a slipper. It’s about Lori McKenna, a songwriter from a small town outside Boston, who made a massive name for herself in Nashville, won her first Grammy in 2016 and became the first woman to win Songwriter of the Year by the Academy of Country Music in 2017.

The story involves fairy godparents Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, a coach to Music City driven by fellow songwriter Mary Gauthier and some really moving songs.

Lori started playing music out at open mic nights when she was 28 years old. By then, she was mother to three of the five children she has with her husband, Gene, who Lori met in third grade and married at 19. So you might not be surprised to know family is important to Lori and has shown up in a lot of the songs throughout her career. But her latest album, The Tree, features the first song she’s ever written about her dad who raised Lori and her siblings after their mom died when they were young.

In this session, I’ll talk to Lori about her story, but first she starts us off with a solo performance of the song “Young And Angry Again.” Hear the complete session in the player above.

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Peter Mulvey On Mountain Stage

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Peter Mulvey On Mountain Stage

The latest record from Peter Mulvey, Are You Listening? is his 17th and was produced and recorded in the home studio of Ani DiFranco in New Orleans. Mountain Stage host Larry Groce calls it an “impressionistic work of art” while introducing Mulvey’s fourth appearance on the program, recorded in Morgantown, W.Va.

“This song has 16 words in it, you can count them,” Mulvey says about the album’s title track, with its sparsely lush arrangement and minimalist lyrics; “You got a new life / I’m Listening.” He is joined by the Mountain Stage Band for most of this set, including Julie Adams on backing vocals, Ron Sowell on harmonica, Michael Lipton and Ryan Kennedy on electric guitar, Steve Hill on bass and drummer Ammed Solomon.

A native of Wisconsin, Mulvey has a direct tie to Mountain Stage‘s home-state of West Virginia through a recurring annual gig with the National Youth Science Camp. For the past 17 years, Mulvey has done a concert inside a cavern for the organization’s STEM-focused educational camp, which draws the two top-performing students from each state for an extensive camp every summer in Davis, Pocahontas County, W.Va.

Mulvey closes his set with a performance piece adapted from a conversation he had with a Czech astrophysicist named Vlad he befriended at the National Youth Service Corps. It turned into a recitation included on Mulvey’s 2014 album, Letters From a Flying Machine, but then took on a life of its own. The story became a TEDx Talk and eventually an illustrated book that is available now. It’s a riveting, thought-provoking performance, with the right amount of humor, a little bit of craft-beer, and of course-some pretty heavy science.

SET LIST:

  • “The Last Song”
  • “Are You Listening?”
  • “You Don’t Have to Tell Me”
  • “What Else Was It?”
  • “Vlad the Astrophysicist”

Peter Mulvey reads from his 2014 album, Letters From A Flying Machine, which was adapted into an illustrated book.

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28 Trombonists Play 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine

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28 Trombonists Play 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine
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Amid all the Internet is capable of — instant news updates, ranking everything from albums to influential artists, exacerbating our FOMO — a pure-hearted collaboration occasionally arises to remind us why we’re all still here, clicking around. Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” performed by 28 trombonists, is the Internet content you didn’t know you needed today.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” covers are plentiful enough that choosing only a few to highlight would be impossible, although this toddler and this Green Day concert come to mind. Recorded during the 2018 International Trombone Festival, this brass choir elevates the cover game. The mournful slide of the trombone — a highlight during the ballad-like verses — and the brassy, anthemic crescendo after the head-banging bridge creates a unexpectedly heartening rendition of the rocking original.

The video was produced by Christopher Bill, a trombonist and prolific YouTuber, to draw attention to next year’s International Trombone Festival. How effective is this video as a call to enroll? Let’s just say the organizers might find a few beginners in the mix this summer, newly inspired to take up the instrument.

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Watch Café Tacvba Perform “Enamorada” Live In The Studio

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Watch Café Tacvba Perform “Enamorada” Live In The Studio

Following a five-show run at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood, Calif., Latin alt-rock band Café Tacvba brought its infectious energy to KCRW’s studios for a live performance on MBE. The group pulled from its diverse catalogue over the course of the set, including this hypnotic take on “Enamorada.”

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