Johanna and Klara Söderberg have a busy couple of months ahead. When they visit the Soundcheck studio in June, the two sisters who make up the Swedish folk duo
ARTIST: Jones Family Singers
The Jones Family Singers is five sisters, two brothers, and their Pentecostal preacher father, plus a few additional singers for good measure. The result, as you might guess from a roster of sacred voices this big, is certainly ecstatic. But it’s also backed with a funky R&B sound that gets both churches and festival stages moving. Here’s the song “Down On Me.”
The Jones Family Singers bring their hand-clapping roadshow to Damrosch Park tonight.
For Soundcheck's occasional series Pick Three, we ask guests to share a playlist of three favorite songs. Sounds simple right? Well, music nerds tend to be talented, high-achieving types, and so they tend to make the task more difficult by selecting a theme. Enter Moby.
The musician, songwriter and DJ joined us recently to perform songs from his new album Innocents live in our studioThe acoustic set reveals Moby's deep love of folk, gospel and other American roots music -- the genres he has successfully blended with electronic sounds since 1999's Play. But when asked to compile a Pick Three, Moby's choices were decidedly New Wave -- circa 1979.
His theme: "Three songs that I discovered exclusively through the world of college radio and public radio."
When you listen to the music of Moby, it's easy to picture him tinkering with sounds and samples, instruments, gadgets and vintage drum machines alone at home. That may well be the case, but for Innocents -- his latest, and 11th(!) album -- the always inventive and ever-shape-shifting musician reached out for collaborations to a degree he never has before. Innocents is Moby's first full-length record with an outside producer (Mark "Spike" Stent) and features an impressive cast of guest vocalists -- from Cold Specks' Al Spx and Skyler Grey to Mark Lanegan, Damien Jurado, and The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne.
As one might expect with the vocalists as the main focus, the songs on Innocents take on a variety of styles for each singer. And while the songs may not feel as cohesive compared to 1999's sample-heavy hit Play, each song retains Moby's distinctively beautiful production and emotional weight that helps to unify the work as a whole. The result is a record that showcases many sides of a musician known for searching for something new and unique.
In this extended session in the Soundcheck studio, Moby discussed Innocents and performed three songs from the new record, along with older songs: "Natural Blues," originally found on Play, and "The Poison Tree," part of an expanded version of his 2011 album Destroyed.
Moby is joined in the studio with his backing band: Vocalists Inyang Bassey and Kelli Scarr; violinist Claudia Chopek; harmonica player Daron Murphy -- and an impromptu choir of friends, label folks, WNYC videographers and Moby's infant goddaughter.
At 7 p.m. on Friday night, I heard a siren on Broadway, outside Lincoln Center. I know this because I confirmed it later with several other people. But for a good 20 seconds or so, I wasn't sure if what I was hearing was in fact a siren, or a part of the music we had gathered to hear at Lincoln Center's Hearst Plaza.
This past weekend saw the premiere of Sila, a new immersive work by this year's Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, John Luther Adams. Adams lived in Alaska for four decades, and a lot of his music has dealt with environmental and ecological concerns. These days he divides his time between New York and Mexico, but his music still grows out of big ideas about our interactions with our landscape, wherever that is.
All summer, Soundcheck has been looking back 20 years to the hit songs, defining albums, and pop culture of 1994. We've heard from a variety of musicians, writers and cultural critics who were there at the time, or grew up in the '90s and have a special place in their heart for the sounds of time. But what about those who weren't even born then? What about those who weren't even born ten years ago, let alone 20? Would they even like a pop song from '94?
We decided to return to New York's Little Red School House to see what a trio of particularly precocious grade schoolers think. In this edition of Soundcheck's series Tough Critics, Zach, Zoe and Marlowe listen to and pick apart one of the most popular, most infectious and ubiquitous songs playing on the radio back then: "The Sign" by Swedish group Ace Of Base.
ARTIST: Yotam Silberstein
Israeli guitarist Yotam Silberstein is just 31, but since arriving in New York seven years ago, he’s quickly taken his place as one of the most innovative jazz players on the scene. And like all the brightest lights of jazz in New York tend to do eventually, he’s playing at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center tonight. Here’s his song “Merav.”
With John Schaefer on vacation this week, Soundcheck is turning to special guests to fill the host chair and revisiting some of our favorite interviews and studio performances.
Today, songwriter, producer, DJ and sardonic wit Moby returns to Soundcheck for an extended session and conversation with John Schaefer. Hear him play songs from his 11th studio album, 2013's Innocents, and other songs from his back catalogue.
Plus: Moby shares a Pick Three playlist of music that he loves right now.
There's a Dan Hicks song called "How Can I Miss You When You Don't Go Away." Well, the band Nickel Creek never really went away; they just took some time off to do other things. Still, we missed them just the same, as that time off stretched to nearly seven years. Mandolinist and singer Chris Thile played with... uh, everyone it seems. And won a MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called Genius award). And starred in the film Another Day / Another Time. Violinist and singer Sara Watkins guest hosted A Prairie Home Companion -- the public radio equivalent of filling in for the Pope -- toured with The Decemberists, and released her own solo music. And Sean Watkins formed his own project, Fiction Family
So the band's recent reunion album and tour was big news.
GIG: Tonight at Drom.
The group Abjeez takes its name from Persian slang for sister, and indeed the band revolves around a sister act, the Iranian-born musicians Safoura and Melody Safavi, But the group also sings in English, Swedish and Spanish. Abjeez plays an unplugged show tonight at Drom; this song is called "Tu Me Haces Falta."
In this episode: Recently Soundcheck and NPR’s Latino USA teamed up during the Latin American Music Conference for a special night of music and conversation at WNYC's Greene Space. Hosted by John Schaefer and Maria Hinojosa, the bill showcased two fantastic acts who re-imagine Latin roots sounds in extraordinary ways: the Brooklyn psychedelic salsa band La Mecánica Popular and the sonically adventurous Argentinian songwriter Juana Molina.
Hear highlights from those performances – as well as hear from the ambitious and renowned Labyrinth Theater Company.
The documentary film Mateo tells the story of one of the more unusual figures in Latin music. "Mateo" is actually Matthew Stoneman, a red-headed white man from New Hampshire who learned mariachi music and a bit of Spanish while serving time for robbery in a California prison. Living in Los Angeles, California, Stoneman becomes a kind of cult figure as the "Gringo Mariachi" and begins making enough money to record periodically in Havana, Cuba.
Sounds like a light-hearted fish-out-of-water story, doesn’t it? But the film has a surprising dark side. Yes, Mateo has a lovely voice, but he's a complicated guy, and he’s almost shockingly okay about sharing that with the camera.
The town of Guča, in Serbia, has a population of just over 2000 people -- except for August, when the annual trumpet festival and competition, Dragačevo Assembly, -- known to some as "the World Cup of brass band music" -- attracts nearly half a million people. Most of them, of course, are Serbian fans of the infectious Balkan brass bands and their distinctive rhythms. But many come from elsewhere. One Balkan brass band that’s taken part in the Guča festival is from right here in New York, Zlatne Uste Brass Band.
Their story -- plus the larger, more complicated story of the Serbian festival itself -- is told in the documentary film Brasslands. As the film vividly depicts, there is much more to the competition than just dancing and good vibes. At stake is national pride, the famous golden trumpet trophy, and for some native musicians, even a year of income.
Boogaloo was the reigning Latin music of 1960's New York City. The distinctive genre combined the sounds of the last decade's popular Cuban mambo with R&B, jazz, and funk to create distinctive and danceable beats that were popular across ethnic and racial lines. While boogaloo enjoyed a heyday in the '70s thanks to the iconic label Fania Records, salsa music eventually eclipsed it and gained a national following that eludes boogaloo to this day. But now a new documentary, We Like It Like That, aims to honor and to introduce listeners to the infectious sounds of the genre. The film celebrates the 50th anniversary of Fania and remembers the boogaloo legends that shaped the label and New York's Latin music scene.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, the film's director Mathew Ramirez Warren talks about discovering boogaloo when sifting through old records, and brings along bandleader Joe Bataan to talk about music industry resistance that some claim was the death of boogaloo.
ARTIST: Sun Kil Moon
The latest album from songwriter Mark Kozelek and his project, Sun Kil Moon, is packed with hyper-personal stories … and very some frank lyrics. It’s not for the faint of heart, but “Benji” might be one of the best albums of 2014. In this song, Kozelek gets an update on family members.
Within in the theater community, Idina Menzel has been known and celebrated for years. Beginning with her role as Maureen in Rent, and later for originating the role of Elphaba in the Broadway musical Wicked -- for which she won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical -- Menzel has demonstrated her powerful, stirring voice in countless beloved stage productions, as well as on TV shows (Glee) and in films (Enchanted).
But it wasn't until last year, with her turn as the voice of Elsa the Snow Queen in the 2013 Disney film Frozen, that the New York actress and singer achieved international stardom. Built on the strength of the ubiquitous empowering hit "Let It Go," which reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, Frozen not only became the highest-grossing animated film of all time, but made Menzel a household name. (Well, that and John Travolta's bizarre "Adele Dazeem" name flub at this year's Academy Awards.)
In this episode: Soundcheck goes to the movies, with three music documentary films.
First: The new documentary We Like It Like That looks at the roots of New York boogaloo music in the 1960s, it's peak popularity in the '70s, and its eventual decline. Director Matthew Warren and boogaloo bandleader, Joe Batann, who appears in the film, talk about the movie, the music, and tell us who's listening to boogaloo today.
Then: The film Mateo is about Matthew Stoneman, a white guy from New Hampshire who becomes a singer of Latin songs in L.A. Sounds like a light-hearted piece of fluff, but Stoneman's story turns out to be darker and more complex. The film's director, Aaron Naar, and its star tell the story.
And: The movie Brasslands follows a New York-based Balkan brass band to the world's biggest brass band competition, in an otherwise tiny town in Serbia. Along the way, the filmmakers come up against the region's difficult history, and its uneasy relationship with its own Roma, or gypsy, musicians.
This summer Soundcheck is looking back to the summer of 1994 to explore the hits, defining albums and pop culture of 20 years ago.
In August 1994, 27-year-old Jeff Buckley quietly released his album Grace. The album was the only full-length studio record that the singer-songwriter -- and son of folk legend Tim Buckley -- released before his death in 1997. With songs like "Last Goodbye" and a stunning cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," the record is now viewed as one of the best albums of all time.
"Everything was special: The vocals, the emotional depth, passion, energy," says Daphne A. Brooks, professor of African-American Studies, Theater, and American Studies at Yale University, and author of the 33 1/3 book on Grace. "This is the height of alternative rock masculinity."
It’s possible that you might have first heard "Hallelujah" in its original form, on Leonard Cohen's 1984 album Various Positions. But it’s much more likely that you first encountered it somewhere else: Maybe in a small East Village pub, being sung by Jeff Buckley. Or at the Winter Olympics, being performed by k.d. lang. Or on the soundtrack for the animated film Shrek, sung by Rufus Wainwright. Or in a scene on TV drama The O.C., performed by Imogen Heap. Simply put: "Hallelujah" has, against all odds, become one of the most widely recorded songs in music history.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, music journalist and author
This segment originally aired on Dec. 13, 2012.
ARTIST: Lage Lund
Lage Lund titled his most recent album “Foolhardy,” but clearly this Norwegian-born guitarist is making some smart moves. Lund attended the Berklee and Juilliard schools of music and won the coveted Thelonious Monk International Jazz competition.