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Music

Jason Heller is a Hugo Award-winning editor and author of the forthcoming book Strange Stars (Melville House). Twitter: @jason_m_heller

They might not recognize it on sight, but fans of Raul Malo and his group The Mavericks will know it when they hear it: the beautiful, unmistakable tone of Malo's shiny white Gibson L-5 Studio, complete with gold Bigsby tremolo and a black-and-white speckled pick guard.

Jimmy Webb (@realjimmywebb) is one of the world’s greatest songwriters. His list of hits, including “Up Up and Away,” Wichita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park,” has been recorded by Glen Campbell, Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt and countless other artists.

Nick Hakim, sitting in the cold outside at the Songbyrd Cafe, on the flat stretch of a hill in Washington's Adams Morgan neighborhood, laughs when I say his new record sounds like it's being played back on an old 78.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Willis Alan Ramsey in concert
Jim Johnson / KGOU

Willis Alan Ramsey writes curious songs that fire up the imagination: from the love affair between a honeybee and chrysanthemum to the lonely travels of a tormented vagabond named Spider John. His storytelling is so compelling and vivid that fellow songwriters across genres consider him royalty. Captain and Tennille, Jerry Jeff Walker, Jimmy Buffett, Waylon Jennings, Widespread Panic, Shawn Colvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore have all mined his material.

Rapper Jasiri X Aims To Change Minds One Rhyme At A Time

Aug 29, 2016
Hip-hop artist and activist Jasiri X
Heather Mull

 

Singer-songwriter and activist Nina Simone once said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” Hip-hop artist and activist Jasiri X tries to keep Simone’s imperative at the core of what he does and has adopted the guidance as part of his artistic statement.

“Hip-hop really helped me to find my own identity,” Jasiri X says. “And so, when I started writing music I always wanted it to be something that had some type of meaning, and not just me writing raps to write raps.”

 

In our jobs, when we're told to redo something, it usually means we've made a mistake. That's not the case for Javier Camarena. Earlier this month at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the tenor had the chance to retake an aria during a performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale because the audience went bonkers after the first time he sang it.

Ben edits a track in Ableton
Sarah Hurd / KGOU

The sound of Oklahoma City musician Askanse defies easy categorization. It’s electronic music, but computers are just a tool producer Ben Hill uses to find, make, layer and manipulate every sound he can imagine.

“I get a lot of ideas just throughout the day biking around or when a lot of times when I'm taking showers for some reason that's a zone in which I have a lot of musical thoughts,” Hill says. “I just hear ideas or sounds or even whole song structures in my head and I try to realize that.”

In the isolated regions of Central Appalachia, music was once the only form of entertainment. It's still alive today thanks to The Crooked Road, a driving trail that connects music venues in Southwest Virginia. It stretches from the Blue Ridge to the Cumberland Mountains for 333 miles, crossing some of the poorest areas in the country.

Making a living in those areas has never been easy, as guitarist Greg Ward knows. He's a native of Floyd, Va. — population: 432.

"You know, it was a rough life," he says. "It was a hard life."

Sousa Beyond 'Stars And Stripes Forever'

Jul 2, 2015

John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is an intrinsic part of many Fourth of July celebrations. An act of Congress named it the official United States National March.

But as Keith Brion, longtime Sousa lover and founder of the New Sousa Band told Here & Now’s Robin Young, Sousa “was patriotic to the core” and many of his other works would also fit well into a fourth of July concert.

The story of music in 2015 goes like this: There are endless ways to listen to endless songs. Looking for something new? There's an algorithm for that. Prefer a human touch? Podcasts, blogs, Beats 1 (maybe!), good old terrestrial radio — take your pick. Honestly, we use all these and more. Many of these songs came to us via Soundcloud or YouTube, Spotify or iTunes. Many others showed up in our inboxes and demanded attention. Some of them we'd been waiting for for years. Some were complete surprises.

Texas Fiddler Johnny Gimble Dies At 88

May 15, 2015

American music has lost one of its lesser-known heroes. “Lesser known,” that is, unless you’re one of the many musicians who benefited from his services as the king of country fiddle.

Johnny Gimble died in his native Texas over the weekend at age 88, leaving a legacy that spans pop, jazz, country and Americana music. David Brown of public radio’s Texas Standard has more.

In June of 1991, a rap album by N.W.A. hit the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart for the first time in history. Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes that music historians have long determined this to be a hugely important moment for pop music.

A cappella is as popular as ever, and who knows that better than Deke Sharon. He is the vocal producer for the a cappella competition TV show “The Sing-Off.” He also directed the live “Sing-Off” show which is currently touring the country.

Tonight and tomorrow, 1,200 students from across the country will perform with the National Children’s Honor Choir in Salt Lake City.

It’s one of the most prestigious junior choruses in the country. Among them will be three students from a school in southwest Denver, where more than three-quarters of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Kate Pierson says she always wanted to be a singer.

"I used to stick my head out the window when I was a kid and sing at the top of my lungs and think no one could hear me."

The beauty of the Tiny Desk lies, at least partially, in the limitations of size and technology. We rarely amplify voices, for example, so for a band like Until The Ribbon Breaks, the challenge becomes how to take a loud electronic sound down to a volume where singer Pete Lawrie-Winfield can be heard. In this case, the solution involved a spaghetti strainer, a paint bucket and an acoustic guitar.

5 Oscar-Nominated Songs: Take A Listen

Feb 2, 2015

The five songs nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song come from a number of genres: pop, country and hip-hop. Glenn Whipp, who covers the awards season for the Los Angeles Times, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to take a listen to the contenders.

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