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The Musical Universe

 

This is not a drill: Heat Check is back! After a short hiatus and some stellar, late-breaking 2019 releases, Heat Check has returned to recap you on the world of experimental R&B, hip-hop and everything in between.

In his first new music since dropping last year's invigorating ode to the Delta Blues, Kingfish, guitar phenom Christone "Kingfish" Ingram shares a sizzling take of the song "Empty Promises." Originally written and recorded by the late bluesman Michael "Iron Man" Burks in 2008, Ingram updates the anti-love ballad with his own signature solos that are both raw and breathtakingly precise.

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Morning Edition's series called One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers in the United States are defined by a single monster hit, and explai

"This is what real love sounds like."

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature. But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose's, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace, backed by a big band including strings, to perform songs from her 2019 LP To Myself.

At Sunday's Oscars, on a night when almost everything went as planned and as usual, the one true surprise came in the biggest moment of all.

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

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

London-based musician Obongjayar is ready to reclaim his Nigerian roots.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREN")

OBONGJAYAR: (Singing) You matter to me. You matter to me.

James Taylor has been a household name for a long time now. Taylor was just 20-years-old when he released his self-titled debut in 1968; in the half century since then, he has sold over 100 million albums and cemented his status as one of the most successful American singer-songwriters.

It is not a secret that the Academy Awards have historically struggled with gender diversity. Though generally critics point to the lack of women nominated in major categories like best director, a critical part of the ceremony itself has also traditionally overlooked women: the Oscars' 42-piece orchestra.

Afrobeat will probably always be associated with one man, one time and one country — Fela Kuti, in late 1960s Nigeria. But for the past 20 years, Antibalas has been establishing Brooklyn, N.Y., as a new center of the Afrobeat universe. The band's seventh studio album was just released and it has a name that calls back to its martial arts origins: Fu Chronicles.

It can be hard to reconcile Bob Marley's massive and ongoing influence with the fact that the genre-defining reggae artist was just 36 when he died of cancer in 1981. Marley would have turned 75 this Thursday; to this day, his music accounts for nearly a quarter of the reggae listened to in the United States.

The middle of winter can feel like a bit of a dead zone — awards season sucks up much of the air while pointing our attention at commercial art we've already seen or decided to ignore. Putative songs of the summer are still being strategized in coastal corporate boardrooms, blockbusters are still bulking up for tank-top season. Everyone's suffering from one vitamin deficiency or another. Well, not today.

Last year, the Oscar for best original song was preordained: It was going to "Shallow," come hell or high water, in spite of the clear and obvious superiority of Kendrick Lamar's "All the Stars." That was an unusually strong year for movie songs — you could have put together a strong slate using only tracks that didn't get nominated — but the category didn't exactly hold the movie world in suspense.

Overcoats is a duo, but JJ Mitchell and Hana Elion's voices are so perfectly in sync that when you hear them sing together, you'd almost think it was one single voice. Their supernatural-sounding harmonies and minimalist songwriting got a lot of praise when Mitchell and Elion dropped their debut album, YOUNG, back in 2017.

Nina Simone was living alone in France, and feeling the weight of her isolation, when she recorded what would become Fodder on My Wings in 1982. But the album — which Verve/UMe will reissue on April 3, making it available for the first time on streaming services — hardly stays in a despondent key.

Here's a first: Steelpans at the Tiny Desk. It's true. Nearly a thousand performances into the series and the instrument has never been featured, until now. While the two bowls look shiny and new in this Jonathan Scales Fourchestra set, they were once authentic oil barrels, pounded, finished and tuned for bandleader, Jonathan Scales. But instrumentation and singularity aside, Scales' virtuosity, energy and connection to his bandmates wowed the NPR crowd, many of whom had never heard this music before.

Updated Friday, Feb. 7 at 5:00 p.m. ET

One of Mali's most prominent musicians, Ballaké Sissoko, has alleged that the Transportation Security Administration [TSA] destroyed his specially designed instrument during a trip from New York to Paris that began on Monday evening. On Thursday afternoon, the TSA said that its agents did not open the instrument case or create the damage.

Dan Deacon's home studio is kind of a mix between a toy store and a science lab — for musicians. There are shelves of digital audio gadgets, multiple computers and monitors, synthesizers stacked on synthesizers and cables running between them all.

"I like how chaotic it is. I like to think about chaos in the way that a forest is chaotic," he says, describing the peace and uniformity of the trees from afar. But if "you get into it, there's piles of leaves, and you lift up the leaves and there's endless life crawling around in the muck."

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After releasing the ambient "Santa Teresa" last October and "

Anna Tivel On Mountain Stage

Feb 6, 2020

Portland, Ore., singer and songwriter Anna Tivel made her Mountain Stage debut sharing songs off of her fourth record, The Question. The performance was recorded at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, with help from Mountain Stage partners at WOUB Public Media.

"Now get back to work!"

The Thistle & Shamrock: Debuts

Feb 5, 2020

If you want to hear what's emerging from the worlds of Celtic music, this is the hour for you. Featured artists include Kíla, Haltadans, Barry Phillips and The Crannua Collective.

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

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Chris has always cataloged the shades of melancholy, including the exquisite baby blues of "5 Dollars," but there is something evocative in the straightforward title of

The night of the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards, Yasiin Bey was behind bars.

Earlier that evening, fans who wanted a glimpse of Justin Timberlake, T.I. or Avenged Sevenfold had gathered on the sidewalk around the entrance of Radio City Music Hall. It was Aug. 31, almost exactly a year since Hurricane Katrina had touched down in New Orleans. Bey, then still known as Mos Def, wanted to send a message to the Bush administration, as well as the celebrities cozying up inside the venue, about their response to the disaster.

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Sufjan Stevens is as artistically ambitious as he is formally transient, moving from early,

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Sharon Van Etten is back with her first single since 2019's fearless and ambitious Remind Me Tomorrow, "Be

This month on Station Breaks, NPR Music member stations steer you away from the mainstream with a diverse list of their favorite new musical discoveries. In this edition, hear the easygoing electronica of Steve Spacek, the retro-soul of Durand Jones & The Indications, a skyline-set performance from Say Girl Say and more.

Songs from this month will be available to stream on the NPR Slingshot Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Morning Edition's series called One-Hit Wonders / Second-Best Songs focuses on musicians or bands whose careers in the United States are defined by a single monster hit, and explains why their catalogs have much more to offer.

There's intensity and clear intention to the music of Another Sky. I knew that from having seen this London band perform at SXSW. But in the confines of an office, hearing Catrin Vincent's unique voice, raw and un-amplified, brought it to another level. They came to NPR back in December to perform, opening their Tiny Desk set with a new song, released just this week. "Brave Face" is a window into the uncompromising sound and message of Another Sky, as Catrin sings in her impassioned voice:

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