Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten made her debut in 2008 with a bare-bones album called Because I Was in Love. She followed it with 2010's Epic and 2012's Tramp, which was produced by The National's Aaron Dessner. As she's pushed herself to improve on each album, Van Etten's remarkable emotional honesty has remained constant.
Before 1909, American pop songs could be romantic and even coy about sex. But none were so explicit about adultery as "I Love My Wife — But Oh! You Kid!" about a married man named Jonesy and the young lass who catches his eye.
It took centuries for a ballad like "Barbara Allen" to work its way through the British Isles and across the Atlantic. Now the music flows freely back and forth as musicians from both sides of the ocean explore and fuse flavors from Celtic, Appalachian and Old Time music. This week they include Dolly Parton, John Doyle, Jean Ritchie and Anaïs Mitchell.
We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside Bob Boilen's 64-ounce tub of Kirkland-brand gong polish is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what separates a mere hit from an invasive irritant.
Chris Kiraly writes via Facebook: "When (if ever) does a song earn the distinction of being 'overplayed'?"
Amina Figarova grew up in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan. Her early musical experiences included plenty of American jazz — both of her parents were music fans — but her mother particularly enjoyed the music of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.
Most of the time, I just pick songs with moments that get me air drumming, regardless of the genre or drummer — or the programmer behind the beats. But for this week's puzzler, I've selected works by undeniable legends in the business, from classic rock pioneers to jazz virtuosos. Good luck, heroes!
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Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 10:33 am
When Willie Nelson was a young hustler selling songs to Patsy Cline's people, he probably never thought he'd become the crowd-anointed sage of country music. But that's what happened as the Redheaded Stranger went gray, turned smoking weed into a brand and a virtue, and produced a discography that added up to its own American Songbook.
Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 10:17 am
Popcaan is something of an unlikely hero in the world of dancehall. He grew up in the Jamaican projects without becoming a hard-edged "rude boy." And he's neither crooner nor spitfire MC — instead, he stands happily between those extremes. The deejay's debut album, Where We Come From, is equal parts dancefloor anthems and "conscious" tunes about Jamaican life, unified by breezy, fresh production from Brooklyn's Dre Skull.