Make a list of bands with integrity, still highly respected and still making music after 25 years, and that list will have Cowboy Junkies near the top. More active than ever, the group has released four new studio records in the past two years — an insane achievement. A prolific nature doesn't define greatness, of course, but these past few years have produced some of the best music Cowboy Junkies' members have ever made.
It'll take just a few seconds to find out if you're likely to fall in love with Jolie Holland. That's what happened to me about eight years ago: Holland was a founding member of The Be Good Tanyas, and I've been listening faithfully to the Texas-born, Brooklyn-based singer ever since.
Today in "They Pay Us To Do This": a performance by South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir, which managed to tie the all-time record for most musicians squashed behind Bob Boilen's desk for a single performance in the NPR Music offices.
Something about tradition inspires reverence and creativity. Throughout Latin America and parts of the U.S., musicians are exhuming centuries-old musical cultures and infusing them with new life to create songs that sound both familiar and new. Peru's Novalima is doing just that with Afro-Peruvian music.
Caveman's Coco Beware was one of my favorite records of 2011, with dreamy guitar- and keyboard-blended pop songs that hit all my musical sweet spots. I love hearing a guitar-based record full of subtlety; one that's not simply over-driven beyond distortion. Caveman writes hit songs, and for me, that means melodies you can carry around in your head, not just your pocket. For pop music, these songs are full of space — they're spontaneous and seem effortless.