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The Musical Universe


Critiquing Lana Del Rey

Sep 7, 2019


One of the most anticipated pop albums of the year was released last week - set off one of those social media firestorms. The album is by Lana Del Rey. We can't say its full name on the air. We'll just call it "Norman Rockwell." We won't use the profanity the artist placed between the painter's first and last names. Her album received a lot of praise.

The Thistle & Shamrock: Debuts

Sep 6, 2019

Hear musicians from both sides of the Atlantic making their first appearances on our show. Artists include Beth Malcolm, a new duo for Tony McManus and a welcomed return from a band last aired in the days of vinyl.

Hear the haunting melodies from St. Kilda that offer a last link to the "island on the edge of the world," featuring arrangements by composers including Sir James MacMillan with singer Julie Fowlis and additional music from Barrule.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


Craig Finn is one of the most eloquent storytellers in music. The people at the heart of his songs are filled with emotions and often flaws. As he says, he's interested in the high and the hangover.

Well, here's a dang remix of mutant-pop minds. On a new 12-inch single, Fever Ray, Björk and The Knife have combined into a single organism, mangling and modifying each other's songs. Karin Dreijer and Björk also add vocals to their respective remixes.

Capitol Records is sharing an early take of The Beatles song "Oh! Darling," along with a completely remixed version of the track. The two cuts appear on a 50th anniversary edition of the band's penultimate studio album, Abbey Road.

Nashville's star-making machine has been the subject of countless articles, several films and six seasons of a prime-time soap opera — but there are plenty of emerging music-makers who operate at the fringes of that world, or well beyond it. Some value indie-style self-reliance, while others tap into popular movements that transcend geography. Here's a roundup of some of these artists' compelling recent offerings, in the midst of perfecting their angles on an array of styles.

Ella Fitzgerald In Soulsville

Sep 6, 2019

Ella Fitzgerald often said, "I'm not going to be left behind. If you don't learn new songs, you're lost." The year was 1967 and she was 51 years old. She said more in 1968: "I want to stay with it. And staying with it means communicating with the teenagers. I want them to understand me and like me." Youth was listening to soul, a new keyword in black popular music, whose powerful musical and political currents were converging around 25-year-old Aretha Franklin.

Most people who don't know jazz can probably recognize the name of one of the genre's best singers: Ella Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is one of the eight women at the center of this season of NPR Music's Turning the Tables, and she's arguably one of the most important vocalists not just in jazz but in the entire history of American music. With an exceptional vocal style, supreme technical capabilities and a spirited energy, she was "The First Lady of Song."

A lot of the albums out this week deal with self-discovery and deep reflection on the nature of being human. The members of MUNA look at aging and personal growth on their latest, Saves the World; Lower Dens weighs the madness of a country driven by competition; and the country super group The Highwomen releases its highly anticipated, self-titled album, one that celebrates the power of women while pushing back on the unwritten rules that have allowed men to dominate country radio for so long.

It's 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth's Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos. Tiny Desk Concerts were in their infancy in 2009; we had recorded only about 25 by the time he visited my desk.

Quick, name the Mexican-American singer who scored chart-topping hits from the late 1960s to the tail-end of the '80s, who put out six platinum-selling albums in a row in the '70s, and whose former touring musicians went on to become one of the most popular '70s bands. You say you don't know who that guy is? Yes, you do: That "guy" is Linda Ronstadt (those musicians in her touring band were Glenn Frey and Don Henley, who went on to form Eagles.)

Violent Femmes On Mountain Stage

Sep 5, 2019

On Nov. 7, 1993, Violent Femmes played Mountain Stage's 300th show, a celebratory doubleheader at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.V. The Milwaukee folk punk pioneers graced the stage alongside Sheryl Crow, Carmaig de Forest, Melissa Ferrick, fellow Milwaukee band BoDeans and more, touring in support of the band's Slash/Reprise Records greatest hits album, Add It Up: 1981-1993.

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.

Grammy Award-winning musician and producer Adrian Quesada was just about to get in the car after having lunch with a producer friend in Austin when he casually tossed out the question, "Oh hey! By the way, do you know anybody who would, like, sing on these songs?"


You know the feeling: Mention a brand of beer, fuss about feeling old or muse aloud about starting a family, and the appropriate summer ale, cosmetic neurotoxin or baby furniture ad wi

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


The eight women we chose to honor in this season of Turning the Tables were skilled singers, writers, instrumental innovators and musical pioneers. But often in the stories of these women's lives and legacies, their musical skills are obscured by a focus on persona or biography. We also want to highlight their work as musicians and the fundamental musical contributions they made to American popular music.


If summer's over, nobody told Camila Cabello because Romance contains the heat of a thousand passions.


Grimes has released a new song, "Violence," in collaboration with producer i_o.

The Joy Of Ella Fitzgerald's Accessible Elegance

Sep 5, 2019

Nana had a big wooden box of a television in the corner of her apartment along Van Aken Boulevard in Cleveland, Ohio, known as "the Widow's Block." Brick with plenty of sunlight, there were four or five buildings of 100 or so units that housed most of our grandmothers after their husbands passed in the late '60s, '70s and even '80s. Close to the places the elegant women knew – church, grocery, movie theater, drug store, Chinese restaurant and confectionary – they played bridge, hosted dinners and maintained their friendships.

Someone is late for the conference call, so the music starts. "Well, I've been sitting here all day," the song begins, sort of croony, with a vaguely country affect — the kind of opening that leads you to expect there is, somewhere, an ex-lover who probably isn't coming back. A certain variety of pining. But then, a few bars in, a turn: "Yes I'm waiting on this conference call, all alone. And I'm on hold, yes I'm on hold... I hope it's not all day, ey!"

In western Colombia, the Petronio Alvarez festival is the big event of the summer — five days of music and food and fashion. More than 100,000 people travel from all over the world to the city of Cali, where they celebrate the culture of the country's Afro-Colombian Pacific region. It's a huge party.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged a 28-year-old man named Cameron James Pettit in connection with the death of rapper and producer Mac Miller last year.

The trash on the Venice boardwalk sparkles like Wet n Wild lip gloss. This is what people forget about Los Angeles beaches: They're part of the city, inundated with the city's grit. Half-melted Icees in Styrofoam cups, one flip-flop, taco foil, condoms, a dead vape pen. Needles. But also: a Swarovski crystal earring. A pinwheel unmoored from its handle. A streak of gooey glitter. Coins of many lands. A few miles up the Pacific Coast Highway, away from the skateboarders and homeless people, WASPs sun themselves at country clubs as employees sweep the sands.

Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Waters And The Colors Of Sound

Sep 4, 2019

There is a widespread tendency to superimpose racial identity on the singing voice and musical genres, and for many years, my own encounters with this left me struggling to understand the sense of alienation I felt when I was accused or celebrated as sounding "white." Throughout adolescence and early adulthood, I was constantly on the lookout for role models who looked and sounded like me. There was always a sense of tension between what people expected of me and the eclecticism of my own vocal style, musical tastes, and sensibilities.