Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a hot and historic outfit from New Orleans, and its members brought us a tuba-wielding Santa and some original holiday cheer and praise — what they call a Cajun Christmas from the French Quarter.
We lit some lights and decorated my desk and shelves as best we could, but it’s this amazing band — complete with saxophone, trombone, trumpet, drums and a couple of tubas — that lit this place up. We’ve never had so much dancing from the NPR crew at a Tiny Desk Concert. So enjoy the show, and happy holidays to all from NPR Music. –BOB BOILEN
“I Think I Love You”
July 27, 2016 by PATRICK JARENWATTANANON • The Colorado River — better known for running through majestic National Parks and powering hydroelectric dams — forms an unlikely backdrop for the creation of a jazz song. But René Marie was answering phones at Denver’s jazz radio station KUVO when she sat down across from a fellow volunteer fundraiser. He would soon invite her on a canoeing trip and, without yet having seen the eponymous river, she wrote the giddy “Colorado River Song” on the way there.
René Marie’s is the sort of voice which first comes to mind when someone asks for a jazz singer — big and expressive, at home in classic swinging settings and comfortable in crowds. There’s plenty to set her apart, though. She made her first recording in her early 40s, so she’s a late bloomer by any standard. Her tastes admit many influences, and she’s got a penchant for original songwriting, especially where social justice intersects with personal biography. Her folky story-song “This Is (Not) A Protest Song” addresses homelessness and mental illness even in her own family.
Joined by her Experiment In Truth band (John Chin on piano, Elias Bailey on bass, Quentin Baxter on drums), Marie visited NPR headquarters to play songs from her new album Sound Of Red. She never specified the exact nature of that synesthetic idea, though the title track would seem to indicate that it’s about the addictive and lusty blood-rush of performing — of seeing red while singing the blues. In the audience was the bold KUVO volunteer from that day 10 years ago. His name is Jesse, and they’re now married and live in her home state of Virginia; they drove up together for this Tiny Desk concert.
“Colorado River Song”
“This Is (Not) A Protest Song”
“Sound Of Red”
October 27, 2015 by BOB BOILEN
At first, I couldn’t pull my attention away from irrepressible singer Kam Franklin, whose down-to-earth but uplifting presence put a huge smile on my face. But as The Suffers’ set progressed, I became increasingly enchanted with the band, which was part Archie Bell & The Drells and part James Brown, with a touch of New Orleans and even Jamaican reggae.
It was a perfect mix of power and delicacy, as the band held back at moments only to steamroll me when my guard was down. The group has only two EPs, with an album on the way, and trust me: 2016 will be The Suffers’ year. Look for the band on far bigger stages soon enough.
Jones’ name is synonymous with the Hammond B3 organ. At 17, he recorded the instrument’s anthem, “Green Onions,” with his band Booker T and The MG’s. Watch him play the song all alone in the NPR Music offices — and with such joy, you’d swear he just discovered it.
“Born Under A Bad Sign”
“Down In Memphis”
Right near the top of this performance, Benjamin Clementine looks toward the camera with an intense stare and sings, “Where I’m from, you see the rain / Before the rain even starts to rain.” At that point, when I’m already hanging on every word, I feel like I’m witnessing an almost otherworldly presence — a visitor with wisdom to impart.
Clementine is a musician and poet who grew up in London and later moved to Paris, where as a teenager he slept on the streets at night and busked in the daylight hours. That’s how he was “discovered,” and in 2015, he released his first album, At Least For Now. There are intimate moments of revelation in this immersive, breathtaking performance, and his voice and piano both sound magnificent. I can’t think of anyone quite like him.
April 18, 2016 by BOB BOILEN
The music I feel most connected to beyond rock is from Mali. The melodies are so fluid, so elegant and most of all so trance-inducing. It often sits on one chord and notes played revolve around that chord. It can feel like a drone at times, and in the case of Songhoy Blues it rocks, lulls and the percussion grooves are not only trance-inducing but dance-inducing.
Many of the musicians we know from Mali are in exile, driven out by Islamists threatening musicians and kidnapping them; the members of Tinariwen know this firsthand. There is sadness, defiance and celebration in the music Songhoy Blues brought to the Tiny Desk from a record called Music in Exile, which is co-produced by an artist most of us rock lovers know best from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nick Zinner. Rock and the desert blues, already closely connected in attitude and sound, fuse nicely with his touch — and can be felt in blissful rawness here.
“Sekou Oumarou” 00:00
“Al Hassidi Terei” 03:46
When you hear Monika, life feels good: The singer’s performances and presence are simply winning. Last fall, I saw her take a hands-in-pockets crowd in New York and turn it into a bunch of dancing, hand-waving fans. Here at the Tiny Desk, the office was singing along as the ebullient singer danced on my desk. She’s a platinum-selling singer-songwriter back in Greece, and her most recent album, Secret In The Dark, is full of spunk and funk. The album was produced by the great Homer Steinweiss, whom you may know as the drummer for the soulful R&B band The Dap-Kings.
Monika Christodoulou’s recent transition from singer of sad songs to purveyor of upbeat jubilance came after she nearly lost her life in a boat fire; she had to swim eight hours in the dark to safety without food or drinkable water. These days, it’s all about a great band grooving, her joyful voice, and that infectious smile.
“Yes I Do”
“Shake Your Hands”
“Hand In Hand”
“Secret In The Dark”
Gaelynn Lea, the winner of NPR’s second annual Tiny Desk Contest, makes music like nobody else. Her sounds are steeped in the deep melodies of great Irish fiddle tunes, but her performance and singing style aren’t traditional. More than 6,000 artists submitted videos in which they performed an original song behind a desk of their choosing with the hope of winning a chance to play a Tiny Desk concert at NPR. Gaelynn Lea was the overwhelming favorite of our six judges.
After voting for Lea, I wanted to learn more about her and her remarkable talent. Following about a minute of just focusing on the desk, her video pans to a small woman in a wheelchair as she plays a violin she holds like a cello. Lea has brittle bone disease, which made it necessary for her to reinvent the ordinary — and, in this case, a way to play the fiddle.
I also discovered, after selecting Gaelynn Lea, that she’d become friends with Alan Sparhawk of the band Low. Sparhawk first heard her perform at a farmers market in Duluth, Minn., where they both live. They’ve become friends who sometimes make music together, recording under the name The Murder Of Crows, so I also invited Sparhawk to join Gaelynn Lea for two of her four songs at this special Tiny Desk concert. There was hardly a dry eye.
“Someday We’ll Linger In The Sun”
“Moment Of Bliss”
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros can’t exactly slip into an office building unnoticed: Clad in the same clothes they’d worn at a concert the night before, the L.A. band’s 10 ragtag misfits would have fit in far more seamlessly at, say, Burning Man. Seeming to exist in a blissed-out alternate universe — during the wonderful “Home,” singer Jade Castrinos exclaims, “Good morning, everybody!” as the clock behind her reads 2:10 p.m. — this is a band whose performances beg to be seen as well as heard, not to mention shot through a wide-angle lens.
The biggest band to play a Tiny Desk Concert – the 10 members of The Magnetic Zeroes played three songs from their debut album (Up From Below).
The set included:
– 40 Day Daydream
Artists shine given restrictions and limitations. Subtlety and nuance are more easily found in minimalism than excess. That’s the beauty of Brushy One String, whose sound is make by one big fat E-string and a voice so rich and full, all it wants is a bit of rhythmic and melodic underpinning.
Brushy One String is from Jamaica, and his “Chicken In The Corn” video has been viewed nearly nine million times. I first came upon his music at globalFEST 2014. He even broke his one string that night, but he smiled and warmed our hearts. He’s a deeply spiritual man who tells stories of his musical father and describes how proud his mom and dad would be of his fame if they were around. (He was orphaned at a young age.) He’s part Delta Blues with a bit of old-school soul, and he beats a pulse and rhythm on the guitar body that’s infectious and simple. That’s the beauty of Brushy One String: It’s all essence, and everything’s essential.