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Illinois Rock'n'Soul.

 

As long as there has been a music industry, there have been attempts — both overt and clandestine — to manufacture hits. You can look as far back as the early 20th century, when musicians known as "song pluggers" were paid to promote sheet music.

Sturgill Simpson's appearance on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live this weekend was his chance to show a national television audience why he's up for a Grammy Award against Adele, Beyoncé, Drake and Justin Bieber — and the man did not blow it.

Bobby Rush is one of the last living blues legends of his generation. He toured the South and the chitlin' circuit in the '50s and was often forced to perform music behind a curtain for white audiences. Shortly before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rush heard through fellow Chicago bluesman J.B.

In 2009, the heavy metal band Disturbed received a Grammy nomination for its song "Inside The Fire," a hard-hitting, emotional track delivered with aggressive guitar riffs and raspy singing.

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Vidya Iyer is a YouTuber. Her claim to fame - cover music videos.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

It's been four and a half years since The xx released Coexist, an album of barren, wounded ballads that drew their dramatic tension from the air between notes. Singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim made the most of the suffocating sparseness, but after a while, Coexist cried out for a bit of catharsis.

On this week's +1 podcast, singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten talks about how and why she made the surprising decision to take an acting role on the Netflix series The OA.

Lila Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City's Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

By now you should be pretty excited about the upcoming Grandaddy album, the group's first in more than a decade. Back in October, when the band announced it'd be releasing the long-awaited full-length Last Place, it shared the track "Way We Won't," a song so true to Grandaddy's sound it could have easily come from any of the group's earliest albums.

David Crosby's been inducted into in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, with The Byrds and with Crosby, Stills and Nash. He has one of the most revered voices of our time — and at 75, even with his legendary lifestyle, it sounds as good as it ever has.

The 2017 Tiny Desk Contest is now open! Starting today, I'll be watching your videos in search of the next great undiscovered artist to play at the Tiny Desk. And I won't be doing it alone. Our team of judges includes these fantastic musicians:

When President Obama gave his goodbye speech this week, one of hip-hop's most politically active stars was watching.

Danish singer Agnes Obel has made Berlin her home for the last decade. She recorded, produced and mixed the gorgeously intimate record Citizen Of Glass on her own in her adopted home. Her captivating voice is layered in incredibly interesting ways in this song, "Familiar."

SET LIST

  • "Familiar"

Photo: Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW.

There's still power in three chords played loud and fast. With a name like Career Suicide, you'd better believe that's true. Now 15 years into the band's existence, vocalist Martin Farkas, guitarist Jonah Falco (who also plays drums in F***** Up) and a revolving cast of musicians crank out '80s-inspired hardcore with the passion of teenagers discovering D.O.A. and Circle Jerks for the first time.

Country music luminary Jessi Colter has only released one album since the 2002 passing of her husband, Waylon Jennings, the Don Was-produced Out of the Ashes, which came out in 2006. Now a second one is due.

The Courtneys recently became the first non-New Zealand act to sign to Flying Nun Records, a not-insignificant feat considering the 35-year-old label's incredible history. The Vancouver trio shares the ramshackle pop aesthetic of Flying Nun alums such as The Clean and The Chills, and nails simultaneously glum and bubblegum hooks with grinning purpose. The Courtneys II is the band's first album in four years, and it more than lives up to the reputation of its new label home.

The three women in The Wild Reeds love a good crescendo. They have three powerful upfront voices in Sharon Silva, Kinsey Lee and Mackenzie Howe and they all write songs to honor and embrace their soaring voices. Since their Tiny Desk Concert a little more than a year ago, over a half of a million people have seen it on our YouTube Channel.

The way Melina Duterte tells the story, it was a tipsy, spur-of-the-moment decision over Thanksgiving in 2015.

Shirley Collins' recent World Cafe session is a perfect jumping-off point for exploring the world of British folk and folk-rock in the 1960s. Bands like Fairport Convention and artists like Richard Thompson got their start as "British Byrds" with electrified folk tunes.

There's a line on Fred Thomas' last album, 2015's All Are Saved, that perfectly captures his stream-of-consciousness style: "If you see me and I seem too entertaining / I'm not singing, I'm just talking to you." Thomas delivers his songs in a conversational cadence, jamming as much as he can into each line. His sneakily catchy tunes aren't effortless, but it feels as if he's chatting with you on the street — or even talking to himself in the mirror — rather than singing to you from a stage.

This year's Winter Jazzfest, which took place last week in New York City, presented an explicit theme of "Celebrating Social Justice." Conceptually and musically, Winter Jazzfest pushes the genre forward; after taking in as many of the 130-plus acts across many stages in Manhattan and Brooklyn as they could, our team reported back with some of the festival's highlights.


"Stories like forests are subject to seasons."

First Listen: Austra, 'Future Politics'

Jan 12, 2017

The notion of Utopia doesn't have a lot of currency these days, but that hasn't stopped Katie Stelmanis. The creative force behind the Canadian electronic outfit Austra, she's used the project's new album, Future Politics, to foment a kind of radicalism in an age of doom and gloom: making music that questions, confronts and uplifts without scaremongering or sugarcoating.

The British folk-rock band The Levellers was DIY before anyone called it that. It formed in Brighton in 1988, when its members were still squatters, and built a career that, by 1994, had landed the band a gig on the main stage at Glastonbury and a U.S. contract with Elektra Records.

Shirley Collins has been a servant of folk songs — mostly from the U.K., some collected in her native Sussex — throughout her life. Born in 1935, she made some of the most important recordings in British folk and folk-rock through the '60s and '70s. She recorded on her own, with her sister Dolly and then with her second husband, Ashley Hutchings, in The Albion Dance Band.

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