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The Musical Universe

 

The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright has announced the premiere of Unmaking Unfollow The Rules, a behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the extraordinary creation of his new album, Unfollow The Rules, his first in eight years.

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Kimmel and Colbert, Bee and Fallon et al., pay attention: Elmo did not come to play.

The 2020 Tiny Desk Contest closed for entries on April 27. We've seen entries from every state in the country; from big bands and solo artists; and from a huge range of styles and genres — and now, our judges will start to comb through our entries to find a winner. In the meantime, we've been sharing some of favorite entries to this year's Contest.

Back before Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta became Lady Gaga, she spent five nights a week dancing at dive bars and gay clubs across New York City. The rising BPMs soundtracked her last call epiphanies, and their hallmarks left a glitter-flecked imprint on her songwriting. Her musical framework was forged in her favorite Lower East Side haunts, and her debut album, 2008's The Fame, paired clever, cheeky wordplay with her beloved four-on-the-floor beats.

Jon Batiste spent his 33rd birthday playing an intimate, private concert with his band in the round while Jazz Night in America captured the show. He kept it classy, donning a suede jacket and playing selections from his two latest Verve releases, Chronology of A Dream and Anatomy of Angels.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.


"We're not doing my original songs," Rhiannon Giddens says, before she and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, launch into an old spiritual, "'cause with these kinds of emotions, the old songs say it best."

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Bright Eyes has shared "One and Done," the third single released in anticipation of the band's forthcoming new album, set for release sometime this year.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Rhiannon Giddens

Where: Limerick, Ireland

Recommendation: Making homemade pasta

Wire: Tiny Desk Concert

May 27, 2020

For me, it was beyond surreal to watch Wire performing at my desk, in broad daylight, in 2020. I spent many an evening over the past 40 years, listening to their original, artful bursts of noise and imagery, seeing them in dark clubs in the '80s and beyond. From the time I first heard them in 1977, few bands have encapsulated my musical aesthetics like Wire.

Today we're sharing an incredible story that Mikel Jollett, the lead singer of The Airborne Toxic Event, has chronicled both in the written word and in song. Jollett had a pretty dramatic childhood: He was born into a cult called Synanon and had to go on the run with biological mother.

Congregating in person for concerts is out of the question this spring and for the foreseeable future, so music fans have gotten used to watching performers livestream from home. What's less obvious is that segments of the Nashville music community that work out of view have been equally resourceful in finding virtual stopgaps during lockdown.

Anyone else starting to feel like the concept of time is a mushy, nebulous, philosophical joke? Feeling fully in the throes of a never-ending limbo, leaning on music as a grounding source of energy has felt more important than ever.

Luckily for fans of R&B, hip-hop, pop and soul, our favorite artists have kept new music coming. Whether they're making daily creations or finally letting go of months' worth of work, we're thankful for new sounds to fill these moments of unrest and static.

2020 looked mighty bright for Nduduzo Makhathini. In January, jazz fans and critics alike jammed themselves into the Zürcher Gallery at the NYC Winter Jazzfest to get a glimpse of the rising star pianist. The buzz was real for the first South African artist ever to be signed to Blue Note Records.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Steve Earle is a star of what's sometimes called Americana music or alt-country. He sings of Americans who often live on the edge. One of his hits tells of a grandson of Appalachian moonshiners who turns to drug dealer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COPPERHEAD ROAD")

STEVE EARLE: (Singing) You better stay away from Copperhead Road.

INSKEEP: Another character is a lifelong criminal who is trapped in an alley and decides, for the first time, to pray.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOM AMES' PRAYER")

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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Jimmy Cobb, The Pulse Of 'Kind Of Blue,' Dies At 91

May 25, 2020

Jimmy Cobb, whose subtle and steady drumming formed the pulse of some of jazz's most beloved recordings, died at his home in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 91.

The cause was lung cancer, says his wife, Eleana Tee Cobb.

Cobb was the last surviving member of what's often called Miles Davis' First Great Sextet. He held that title for almost three decades, serving as a conduit for many generations of jazz fans into the band that recorded the music's most iconic and enduring album, Kind of Blue.

Your No-Stress Playlist: Bruce Springsteen

May 24, 2020

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

On her latest EP, Noah Cyrus wants you to know that you're not alone in feeling alone. Blending the spirit of classic country music with the sensibilities of today's pop, it's called The End of Everything — which feels like a good title for this moment.

Noah comes from quite the musical family, but now, with songs like "July" and "I Got So High That I Saw Jesus," she's finding her own voice.

Your No-Stress Playlist: K'Naan

May 23, 2020

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we're going to turn to our no-stress playlist. We've been building a list of songs you've told us bring you calm during these anxious times. Today's pick comes from Twitter user Courtney Strickland (ph) This is K'Naan's "Take A Minute."

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

The band Woods has always incorporated diffuse influences, taking inspiration from lo-fi rock, Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic folk sounds. Guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Earl, who recently became a father, says his group's latest album, Strange To Explain was influenced by something else — a lack of sleep.

"Those first few months or first year of having a newborn kind of put me in a dreamlike state," he says. "And that was my escape: to start writing."

Lee Konitz, Bucky Pizzarelli, Ellis Marsalis, Wallace Roney and Henry Grimes are just a few of the jazz greats who have died in recent months from complications due to the coronavirus. Hear WBGO and Jazz Night in America's Christian McBride talk to about the toll the pandemic has taken on the jazz community, and read WBGO's Nate Chinen on the pain of grieving lost musicians during Jazz Appreciation Month in April.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

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Lady Gaga released "Rain On Me," the second single ahead of her upcoming album Chromatica midnight Friday morning, followed by a music video Friday afternoon.

The Tiny Desk is working from home for the foreseeable future. Introducing NPR Music's Tiny Desk (home) concerts, bringing you performances from across the country and the world. It's the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.

Our Daily Breather is a series where we ask writers and artists to recommend one thing that's helping them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Who: Fayette Hauser

Where: Los Angeles, Calif.

Recommendation: Making art with friends online

Here is the story of how Moby got his second neck tattoo: In early September of 2019, on the eve of his 54th birthday, the electronic music producer born Richard Melville Hall was having lunch at the vegan restaurant in Los Angeles that he owns, Little Pine. When a pal asked Moby how he intended to celebrate, another responded with a quick quip before he could answer: "Get a tattoo."

Before the pandemic hit, bassist Linda May Han Oh and pianist Fabian Almazan were already forces to be reckoned with, but for the most part, they kept their creative practices separate. Oh leads her own groups, including the one for her album Aventurine, and performs as a member of others, such as Pat Metheny's quartet.

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