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.

That liquid, crystalline tone; those airborne, searching melodies. They've been part of the jazz conversation for decades — ever since Pat Metheny's debut appeared back in 1976, when he was just 22-years-old. He's 65 now, an established star and the only recording artist in history to win a Grammy award in 10 different categories. On his latest album, From This Place, Metheny is pushing forward, still seeking breathtakingly new vistas.

On "One More Year," the opening track of his fourth record as Tame Impala, multi-instrumentalist mastermind Kevin Parker cues up a memory from a year ago, Facebook-style. He sounds wistful as he recalls a distinct moment in a love affair: "If there was trouble in the world, we didn't know. If we had a care, it didn't show."

Sooner or later, every child prodigy hits a fork in the road: Keep doing the crowd-pleasing, trained-seal tricks that brought fame? Or set out to develop a more individual sound?

From the moment 11-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander gained international attention in 2015, it was clear that he wasn't your average young phenom. He had seemingly limitless technique and a deep understanding of tunes written decades before he was born. Already a fixture in the jazz world with five albums under his belt at only the age of 16, Alexander is clearly charting his own path.

And now, a moment of appreciation for the under-assistant recording engineers and studio gofers who toiled in anonymity in the dimly lit studios of the past. They didn't just get coffee — they were on site, taking notes about who played what instrument on which track, writing down the dates of sessions, and making sure that those dates were clearly marked on the tape boxes. They did this for albums that became classics. And singles that never left the garage.

The only thing we know for sure about new posthumous studio albums from Leonard Cohen, Harry Nilsson, Prince, Arthur Russell and others: Final approval did not come from the artists themselves. At some point, a producer – or manager, or official from the estate or other individual a step removed from the name on the marquee – acted as the artist's proxy and gave an OK to release the work to the public.

An anthology devoted to early Nat King Cole recordings was recently released, and it offers a new window into his artistic development. The collection is called Hittin' the Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943), and this massive 7-CD, 10-LP package is clearly aimed at obsessives. It's a deep dive that traces Nat King Cole's evolution — from smooth, unflappable piano player into a singing star with an endearingly smooth style all his own.

It almost sounds like a twisted science experiment: Invite a dozen rock and roll warriors to spend a week at a ranch in the California desert, encourage them to write songs and play together, then capture the results.

The "profession" of rock criticism was still in its tender adolescence in 1969. Daily newspapers were beginning to hire writers to cover pop, rock and what was sometimes described as "youth culture." Alternative weeklies like the Village Voice became trusted early warning systems for new bands. And Rolling Stone magazine, which began in San Francisco in 1967, had by 1969 become the rock and roll "paper of record."

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There are lots of firsts and superlatives in the career of Ginger Baker, the drummer and bandleader who died Sunday morning at age 80. His death was announced by his family on social media; they had said on Sept. 25 that he was "critically ill," without giving details.

The wild-eyed son of a South London bricklayer, Baker was the engine room of rock's first and still most revered power trio, Cream. He played a similarly key role in shaping the more finessed work of one of rock's first supergroups, Blind Faith.

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The frontwoman of Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard, has just released her first solo album.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRITTANY HOWARD SONG, "HISTORY REPEATS")

There's been no shortage of great music by soft-spoken women playing acoustic guitar in 2019. But if you pay attention to one song in that vein this year, let it be "The Fading" from Joan Shelley's breathtaking latest album, Like The River Loves the Sea. It's an elegy tuned to the present moment hitting ominous notes of environmental dread, glaciers disappearing, things breaking down. You can tell that Shelley is rattled, but gracefully sidesteps despair on the refrain.

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All right, it's Tool time. Today, progressive metal band Tool releases its first album in 13 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEAR INOCULUM")

TOOL: (Singing) Immunity long overdue. Contagion, I exhale you.

Hidden inside the three minutes and eight seconds of "Holyfields," are the basic schematics for i,i, the deceptively ambitious fourth Bon Iver album.

The official history of rock and roll in the late 1960s is usually written festival-to-festival, Fillmore lineup to Fillmore lineup. Here are the reputation-making gigs, here are the moments when youngsters became rising stars.

In his vast catalog of music, Radiohead's Thom Yorke has trembled like a broken man on his knees. He has screamed in tormented six-part harmony; he has manic-whispered diaries worth of existential fear. Still, he just can't shake the techno-dread. Most recently, that dread has manifested in Yorke's third solo project, ANIMA, released on June 27.

From a casual distance, the music of João Gilberto sounds like it might belong to that ancient realm known as "easy listening."

Since releasing You're Dead! in 2014, Flying Lotus, the L.A. producer conceptual artist, rapper and label head, has collaborated with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Herbie Hancock and more. On May 24, he finally dropped his own highly anticipated fifth album, Flamagra. Step right up and prepare to be astonished by the strange, blink-and-you-miss-them concatenations of sound beamed directly from the mind of FlyLo.

This past May, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary, attracting an estimated 475,000 people to its annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture. To mark this milestone, Smithsonian Folkways has released its Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival box set that includes rare live recordings and photographs of the momentous gathering.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.


Though it lasted only a few months in 1975 and 1976 and played mostly in tertiary-market venues, Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue occupies a mythic place in the history of rock tours.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

Heather Woods Broderick needed a change. After more than seven years of living on the road, backing up artists like Sharon Van Etten, Broderick moved from Brooklyn to a spot on the Oregon coast, near where she'd spent summers as a child. Broderick's latest album, Invitation, out now, is a musical portrait of that upheaval.

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Sometimes a recording artist seems to disappear from the public eye. Often they will come back transformed with a whole different sound and outlook. And then there's Dido.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HURRICANES")

Just when it seems the shadow of The Beatles can't get any longer and everything in rock has been done before, along come Sean Lennon and Les Claypool, asking the musical question: What if, instead of ducking The Beatles, you embraced the band's tricks — the galumphing marches, the sun-dazed harmonies — and then made them a little weird?

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.


French composer Erik Satie, an under-recognized forefather of musical minimalism, once explained his creative process as follows: "I took to my room and let small things evolve slowly."

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The Best Reissues Of 2018

Dec 19, 2018

The vinyl resurgence took a giant step in 2018. Once regarded as a novelty niche market, it became a serious change agent in not just new releases, but the increasingly active realm of archival music.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.


When can a song be considered "finished"? When, if ever, can a song written by Bob Dylan be considered finished? And what to make of tracks that were greenlit for release and then discarded – after the auteur decided they somehow didn't quite capture the totality of what he was trying to express?

To make his first solo album under his own name, guitarist Tom Morello collaborated with talents from all corners of the music world. There are the stars you might expect the founder of the '90s band Rage Against The Machine to seek out — like Big Boi from Outkast or Marcus Mumford from Mumford and Sons.

More than two years after Prince's death, his fans got their first album-length glimpse into the famed vault. Piano & a Microphone 1983 features nine songs Prince recorded solo on cassette in his home studio, spilling fascinating secrets about his approach to songwriting.

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