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Remarkable falsetto singing, accompanied mainly (and sometimes solely) by acoustic guitar, was the calling card for Justin Vernon's breakout as Bon Iver. Since his widely praised debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, he's sung with pop superstars, produced for other artists and greatly expanded the sound of his own band. This week — after a five-year break — he takes another step away from his beginnings with Bon Iver's third album, 22, A Million.

Shovels & Rope On World Cafe

Sep 30, 2016

The last album of original songs from the Charleston, S.C., band Shovels & Rope was 2014's Swimmin' Time. The duo put out an album of covers in 2015, but for the forthcoming album Little Seeds, it was time for Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent to put in some writin' time.

The smartest thing Mikael Åkerfeldt ever did was to stop writing extreme metal and focus on his biggest musical obsession: progressive rock. As sterling a run as he and his band Opeth experienced from the 1995 debut album Orchid to 2008's Watermark, the Swedes ran the risk of spinning their wheels if they would've kept playing the same labyrinthine hybrid of death metal and doom metal over and over. You could tell guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Åkerfeldt wanted more space to express himself beyond a monotone growl.

This past week I was at the 17th annual Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville, listening to and having conversations with musicians. One songwriter and singer I've admired from the world of Americana during this decade is John Paul White, whom you may know as a former member of the duo The Civil Wars.

For weeks, Bon Iver fans have been tantalized by cryptic imagery, pop-up murals and a symbol-heavy track list that would make any copy editor shudder. Now, the band's long-awaited third album, 22, A Million -- its first in five years — is finally available.

Ponder for a moment the intensity of devotion that Gillian Welch has commanded among a certain highbrow listenership for the better part of two decades. She and her musical partner Dave Rawlings — who perform together under her name — have become archetypes of entrancingly austere, two-voiced artistry.

Solange announced her new album, A Seat At The Table, on Tuesday, calling it "a project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing." Now the follow-up to 2012's excellent True EP is here, accompanied by a book, and featuring spots from Kelela, Q-Tip, Kelly Rowland, Lil Wayne, Dev Hynes, Sampha, Moses Sumney, The-Dream, BJ the Chicago Kid, Sean Nicholas Savage and Tweet.

Lucius On Mountain Stage

Sep 29, 2016

Lucius returns to Mountain Stage, recorded live at the Culture Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. As guest host Joni Deutsch says in her introduction, "This band might dress alike, but their sound is like nothing you've ever heard."

What feeling of freedom must accompany recording artists who don't use their real names when they write or perform music? Does a musical mask, a second personality, let them create a whole new persona? A way to react differently to the world? I remember one Halloween, I went to a costume party at a friend's office. I didn't know anyone there, and was wearing a costume that included a mask that completely covered my face. I'll never forget the complete freedom as my friend's office mates tried to figure out who I was.

Kate Bush has toured only once in the last 35 years. Fortunately, that string of live performances, at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in 2014, was recorded and will soon be available for everyone to hear. Concord Records will release Before The Dawn, a three-disc set of the recordings, on Dec. 2. Bush produced the set herself, with no additional recording or overdubs.

Norah Jones returns to the piano for many of the songs on her new album, Day Breaks, which hearkens back to her blockbuster debut, Come Away With Me. She recruited an assortment of Blue Note jazz greats for the album, on which she delves into some of the issues of the day — particularly in "Flipside."

SET LIST

  • "Flipside"

When Fleetwood Mac released Rumours in 1977, the band's lush instrumentals and melancholic harmonies reignited an obsession with bright, shining California pop.

Paul Simon is ageless and animated in his first-ever performance at Austin City Limits. His hour-long, career-spanning set includes this playfully infectious version of the song "Wristband," from Simon's most recent album, Stranger To Stranger. It's vintage storytelling from Simon as he describes a musician who's inadvertently locked out of the club where he's supposed to be performing. It's a maddening comedy of errors that ultimately speaks to much larger issues like abuse of power, race relations and the privileged class.

In a run spanning more than 30 years, Phish has become one of rock's all-time great touring bands, thanks to dynamic live performances full of lengthy improvisations and whimsical antics. But even with 1,600-plus shows under its belt since the 1980s, the Vermont quartet still has detractors, including those who point to Phish's uneven discography. Fair or not, it's true that the group's studio output is a different beast next to countless hours of live recordings.

Contrary to institutional narratives and popular perception, there's a place more significant to the country-music imagination than Nashville: the small town. It's impossible to miss the number of song lyrics and music videos set there. The humble hamlet is symbolic ground on which many artists choose to stand, idealizing it as a site of possibility — the notion that a meaningful life can be lived either by staying there or staying true to small-town values even when you make good elsewhere — and insisting that cosmopolitan elitism not render it invisible or inferior.

Ever since his early teens, songwriting has come fairly quickly to Conor Oberst. Whether as a solo artist, with Bright Eyes, in Desaparecidos, or in the supergroup Monsters Of Folk, he's stayed steadily prolific while performing with nervy intensity at every stop on his winding and unpredictable career path.

As partners in marriage and in the rootsy duo Shovels & Rope, Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent used to think there was no way their worlds could get any more intertwined. Then they had a kid.

Hear three sessions recorded during World Cafe's yearly visit to the Camp Stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. This year's event, the 55th annual installment of the festival, took place Aug. 18-21, 2016.

Liz Longley

Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath was one of the coolest records to come out in 2014, with Ozzy-era Black Sabbath songs recast as heavy Latin-funk jams. But it's not just some joke made after a night of tequila.

The Thistle & Shamrock: New Sounds

Sep 28, 2016

The flow of new music continues through the end of summer into the fall. Sample some recent releases from favorite artists and rising names. Selections include new songs from Iona Fyfe Band, The Bills and Celtic Fiddle Festival.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Swedish singer, organist and all-around bad-ass Anna von Hausswolff has released a monumental new video for her song "Come Wander With Me/Deliverance." Breathlessly beautiful and brooding, the film unfolds in the deep, dark woods where Hausswolff walks stone-faced among the trees, drinking in the majesty of nature and its indifference to the human experience.

In October 2014, World Cafe ventured to Lafayette, La., with a camera crew under the direction of filmmaker Robert Mugge, who would turn the trip into the documentary Zydeco Crossroads.

When we featured Gallant's "Skipping Stones," the rising R&B singer's duet with professional guest vocalist Jhené Aiko, on the All Songs Considered SXSW preview back in March, we knew we'd found a new team favorite.

Named for a Drive Like Jehu song, Super Unison came out fully formed with a furious eight minutes of hip-shaking punk released last year. Featuring vocalist and bassist Meghan O'Neil Pennie (ex-Punch), drummer Justin Renniger (ex-Snowing) and guitarist Kevin DeFranco, Super Unison proves that melody can still leave a nasty bruise.

Jean Shepard, one of the first women to find success in country music as a solo act, died Sunday at age 82. Shepard was a feisty, straight-shooting singer who created a career in an industry where she had few female role models.

When Conor Oberst started releasing music more than 20 years ago, first as a solo artist and later as Bright Eyes, he was just a teenager from Nebraska. Everyone marveled at how a kid could write and record at such a breathlessly prolific pace, producing inspired, sonically adventurous songs with a wisdom and world view beyond his years. Now just in his mid-30s, he's already a veteran, with dozens of albums and EPs behind him.

I met Isaiah Rashad late this summer, during a stop on the manic press run that comes with the release of a new album. Like most of his fans, I wanted to know where he had been and what to expect from his latest work, The Sun's Tirade. His debut album, Cilvia Demo, dropped in January 2014, and back then I heard an urgent young man from Chattanooga, Tenn., on the hunt for validation through his art.

While Bob was gallivanting about Nashville last week for AmericanaFest, I was hiding under a pile of covers fighting a case of Hand-Foot-And-Mouth disease (it's as Medieval as it sounds). But show business never sleeps, which means Bob made it back home, I recovered and we're back in the studio this week to geek out over our favorite new music.

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