Ann Powers

We open this week's New Music Friday with a quick spin of Love Keeps Kicking from the self-described queer, straight edge, vegan, anarchist punk band Martha. One of the week's best guitar rock albums, it's bursting with hooky melodies and memorable meditations on (among other things) the end of times.

Billie Eilish is already a veteran pop artist at the age of 17, with a clear vision for her sound and image, even if that sound is sinister and the image a bit demented. (Have you seen her videos?) Her brilliant debut full-length, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is finally out and way more cryptic and complicated than the lead-up singles might have suggested.

What is the blues? To some, it's a feeling; to others, a beer-selling brand. Adia Victoria captures the spirits of the blues in a simple phrase: black genius.

"I wouldn't have pursued music but for trouble," Joni Mitchell once said. Mitchell was referring to real problems — her childhood time spent bedridden with polio and the life-shaping loss she experienced after giving her daughter up for adoption in 1965. Those events solidified the drive that pushed Mitchell forward from small-potatoes rural Canada toward the American meccas where she would prove to be the magnet shifting the needle of pop. But trouble, in all its manifestations, is also Mitchell's muse.

Art needs to be preserved, but music thrives when it is replanted. Traditional styles grow differently depending on who cultivates them and where. For two decades, Old Crow Medicine Show has helped make old-timey American music vital for a generation raised on Nirvana and hip-hop by abandoning the rules that sometimes stifle folk revivalism and growing in whatever way appealed to it.

Some anniversaries are hard to celebrate. How should we greet the arrival of October, a year after the stories broke initiating the reckoning that soon became known as #MeToo? Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published their exposés — on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 of last year, respectively — of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's long career as an alleged serial rapist, a new nationwide discussion has formed about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Often, this ongoing reckoning feels like not a dialogue, but a war.

The story of how Tanya Blount and Michael Trotter met, wooed, married and became The War and Treaty says so much about our present moment. She began her music career as a teenage R&B ingenue, navigating the ups and downs of the music industry with resilience and sharp wits. He discovered his musical gifts as a soldier in Iraq and became a kind of spiritual advocate for fallen soldiers, composing songs about them for their memorial services.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

AMERICANAFEST just ended and we're back from Nashville with 10 thrilling tunes for you. The artists are, for the most part, emerging musicians who tackle this diverse genre from all angles.

Defining Americana isn't easy. At the festival, there were musicians from all around the world. Some were rooted in blues, jazz, boogie rock, bluegrass, soul, gospel, comedy, country, Tejano and much more.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

When Liz Cooper got her first guitar, it didn't help her social life. A high schooler who'd spent her early years as an athlete, Cooper fell in love with the instrument and spent hours in her room teaching herself to play in the intricate, looping fashion she still uses today. Cooper has gained a growing following in Nashville and beyond as one of the rock scene's most distinctive guitarists, with a style few can imitate.

Birdtalker's music arises at the point where intimate exchange connects with community. Zack and Dani Green were a newly married couple when, one afternoon, the guitarist and singer asked his spouse for input on a song he was writing. Within hours, they realized that Dani's background as a student of literature and inherent talent as a harmonizer brought Zack's music to another level.

Southern friendship is all about porches. The craftsman cottages of East Nashville were designed for afternoon sweet tea and guitar picking with the perfume of whatever's on the smoker (these days, it's as likely to be tofu as hog) wafting by. Bars like Mickey's on Gallatin Pike have great porches, too — a famous local might come in for a cold beer and leave hours later in a new super group.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

On the day we talked to him, Joshua Hedley came into the studio with a cold; he was all apologies and sniffles, a cough chasing his hello. Yet when the longtime Nashville favorite entered the recording booth, a seeming miracle occurred. His trademark tenor emerged clean, warm, and on point, rounding out each note beautifully within his classic country songs.

The results are in for the first-ever NPR Turning the Tables readers' poll, and they send a strong message to anyone fancying themselves a cultural justice warrior in 2018. It is this: check your intervention.

Mention Erin Rae's name in Nashville indie music circles and you'll get a certain reaction: people's eyes light up, they sigh, and use words like "angelic" and "mesmerizing." Rae's gentle voice and subtle, deeply insightful songwriting have made her a standout among the city's folk and Americana artists for years.

Nashville rock is fun, loud and often trashy, but the best bands push themselves beyond mere noise into visionary territory. Idle Bloom is a band that's grown from its roots in the all-ages punk scene to become one of the city's most musically compelling and lyrically insightful ensembles.

When people ask about the rock 'n' roll sound of Nashville, locals might direct them to the garage rock scene, to Jack White's Third Man Records, or to guitar-slinging country outlaws like Sturgill Simpson or Eric Church. But they'd be remiss to leave out Moon Taxi, a band that's grown a large and devoted fan base in Music City since forming at Belmont College 10 years ago.

In July, NPR published Turning The Tables, it's list of the 150 Greatest Albums By Women during the "classic album" era. Our occasional listening parties bring together voters to discuss some of their favorites from the list.

Today, we are considering classic albums by two singers who both died too young, but still had time enough to embody the freedom and heartache of their respective generations.

Wrapping up a year of some incredible sessions, this week, World Cafe is digging into the archives for some of its best performances and interviews of 2017.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter, collectively known as Penny & Sparrow, are pin-drop performers, the kind which silence rooms with impeccable songs and storytelling that unfolds like a dream. The duo has amassed a devoted following in six years, and traveled from Austin, Texas to Muscle Shoals, Ala., now splitting its time between the two musical centers.

Willie Watson feels his way through America's musical history by sliding an old bottleneck against the strings of his acoustic guitar. He finds it in the grain of his own voice, cultivated over 20 years of singing old songs his own way. First as a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now in his own solo career, Watson has brought folk-based roots music alive for new listeners in the 21st century.

It's always a little irritating when women in rock bands are dubbed "vulnerable." The word is often meant as a compliment, but one given without consideration to the fact that music always opens up its makers to a wide range of emotions. And as if women, in particular, bear some magical burden of openness, lacking the ability to rage and strut and cause trouble like guys do.

What does vulnerability sound like, anyway? Maybe it's just the willingness to occasionally sound awkward. To hit a bum note. To say the thing that makes you look a little dumb.

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