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The Musical Universe

 

North Carolina has strong associations with folk music, but it occupies a much bigger piece of American music history: It's been a hub for burgeoning indie rock, the cradle of the Piedmont blues and the birthplace of titans like Nina Simone, Elizabeth Cotten, George Clinton, Thelonious Monk and Link Wray.

A bright red phone sits on the desk in NPR's main studio in Culver City, Calif. It's an '80s era hotline that serves as a permanent link for host David Greene to his counterparts in NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. No number. No ring time. Just a permanent connection. It's the first thing the members of the alt-pop trio MUNA mention when they sit down for their interview.

"We should have that in our houses," Naomi McPherson says.

"We should!" Katie Gavin and Josette Maskin both agree.

A-WA is made up of three Israeli sisters, Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim. This melodic trio of Jewish women of Yemeni descent women emphasize mixing their culture's traditions with forward-thinking modifications to sound, visuals and ethos. The sisters are known for eye-popping music videos that challenge gender stereotypes. Picture women in traditional robes that are neon pink while off-roading across a barren desert. The trio's sound is just as distinctive.

Cedric Burnside is a drummer, guitarist, singer and performer. You can hear all of those elements come together on Benton County Relic, his latest album. He grew up in Benton County in rural Mississippi where he was raised by his grandfather, the late bluesman, R.L. Burnside.

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Listen to this playlist via Spotify.

The Voice That Shattered Glass

Sep 3, 2019

It's the stuff of legends: an urban legend and a jazz legend combining into a legendary advertising campaign.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify or Apple Music.

A-WA: Tiny Desk Concert

Sep 3, 2019

The last time we filmed these three Israeli sisters, they were sitting in my hotel room during South by Southwest, performing a heartbreaking lullaby, accompanied by just a guitarist. Now Liron, Tagel and Tair Haim are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.

On this edition of All Songs Considered: songs of gratitude from Pinegrove, a take on intimacy from Norwegian artist Jenny Hval and a song of quietude with a few surprises from Anna Meredith.

I'm also thrilled to have new music from Sudan Archives, an artist who blends violin loops and catchy rhythms like no one else. And what is the sound of four Mellotrons? Hear John Medeski, Pat Sansone, Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant's "Pulsar," part of their Mellotron Variations project.

Common is no stranger to showing emotion. With more than 20 years in the spotlight, the Chicago-hailing rapper, actor and activist has worn his heart on his sleeve publicly for years and won plenty of accolades for it. Common is one of the few distinguished artists to have won an Emmy, Grammy and Oscar award in the span of his career.

It's Monday night and performer Mark Shunock is where he comes alive — on stage.

"Hello, Mondays Dark!" he calls out to the audience of about 400 people. They cheer. "We have an amazing line up of talent that have given their time to be here tonight."

Construction Noise: The Remix

Sep 1, 2019

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Imagine - you work the nightshift, come home to sleep and there's this pounding through the windows.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

FADEL: That was what was keeping Frida Backelin of Kumla, Sweden, from getting some much-needed rest.

My Signature Song: 'Amor Prohibido'

Sep 1, 2019

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Raul Rojas of Highland Park, Calif., has a signature song - a song so important, it has helped shape his identity. It's "Amor Prohibido" by Selena.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR PROHIBIDO")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

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In August 2018, NPR reported on two farmers from a small village in India who went viral for

Natasha Bedingfield On 'Roll With Me'

Aug 31, 2019

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(SOUNDBITE OF NATASHA BEDINGFIELD SONG, "UNWRITTEN")

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Back in 2006, this song seemed to be everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNWRITTEN")

NATASHA BEDINGFIELD: (Singing) I am unwritten. Can't read my mind. I'm undefined.

Every month, Heavy Rotation features a list of the best songs playing on the public radio airwaves. Check out the list of songs here or, even better, listen to a variety of broadcast streams by clicking on the station call letter hyperlinks below. Either way, you can discover new music and new artists. Enjoy!


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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.

NPR Music's Top 12 Albums Of August

Aug 30, 2019

August, traditionally, is slow month for media. Hollywood takes a (brief) break from blockbusters and gets ready to roll out autumn's big movies. The music world didn't get that memo, giving our ears much to love.

It started with notes scribbled on napkins. Ben Lovett was touring the 2015 album Wilder Mind with his band, Mumford and Sons, and sketching out his dream venue on whatever paper scraps he could.

I would say, "You have to go see Another Sky live," except that if you go to one of the band's shows you won't really see Another Sky.

1969 was a pivotal year for music: Aretha Franklin's Soul '69, both Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut and Led Zeppelin II, Janis Joplin's I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!

It's humbling, maybe a little embarrassing and definitely exciting to stand in the middle of a packed club show and be the only person who doesn't already know all the words to the songs the band is playing. Welcome to my experience seeing The Amazons at Omeara in London.

"When will we listen to black women?"

'Santana' At 50

Aug 30, 2019

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Woodstock celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this month, and it's been an amazing excuse to think back to the bands that played there on that grassy field in rural New York state. Some of them were already big names - Jimi Hendrix, CCR, Jefferson Airplane; others were virtual unknowns.

NPR Music's Top 16 Songs Of August

Aug 30, 2019

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"It's kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out," The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR. Even more than the mega-hits he's written for the likes of Beyoncé ("Single Ladies") and Rihanna ("Umbrella"), the self-styled radio killa's early solo oeuvre — known as the Love trio — helped cement the songwriter's saucy way with words.

After trickling out singles for more than a year, singer Lana Del Rey has finally dropped her sixth full-length studio album with the oddly comical title, Norman F****** Rockwell. On this week's New Music Friday, we dig into this expansive mix of slow-burning ballads and sometimes strange but profound, odyssey-length adventures.

If you've turned on your radio anytime over the past quarter century, there's a decent chance you heard the voice of Sheryl Crow. From "All I Wanna Do" to "If It Makes You Happy," the Missouri-born music-maker has been consistently pumping out feel-good pop rock for more than three decades. Now, after nine Grammys and more than 50 million albums sold, the singer-songwriter says her 11th album, Threads, out Aug. 30, will be her last.

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