Bob Boilen

It's been six years since Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae released her second album, The Sea, so this Tiny Desk concert feels like both a re-introduction and a welcome back.

In terms of sheer intensity, Saul Williams' Tiny Desk concert may be the most potent in our eight-year history. Only Kate Tempest comes to mind as its equal, which makes sense given that both mix music with bracing, truthful poetry. In Williams' opening song — "Burundi," from his album MartyrLoserKing — the main character is a computer hacker who lives in Burundi and fights for democracy:

There's a new film about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds directed by Andrew Dominik called One More Time With Feeling. The setting of the film is a recording studio for a performance of songs from Skeleton Tree, the band's 16th studio album. But the backdrop to the film is tragic. In the summer of 2015, Nick Cave's 15-year-old son Arthur fell from a cliff while hallucinating on LSD. The film was made about five months later. Cave has not spoken at any length about his son, and this film is, in a way, his statement and thoughts on Arthur's death.

There's brutal honesty in the songs of Margaret Glaspy that can make them feel cold, but they're also heartfelt. That's part of what makes Glaspy a top new artist of 2016 for many of the writers here at NPR Music.

Listening to John Congleton can be scary. The imagery — of "blood between my legs," of loving another "like a lion loves its kill" — can be horrifying. But the songs Congleton sings (from his album Until The Horror Goes) touch on what it means to be human, and what it means to face the fact that we are flesh-and-blood "temporary custodians" in vessels that will inevitably return to the earth and decay.

At first it was simply the voice that shook me. I was in Austin, Texas, during SXSW, and my buddy Sean Moeller of Daytrotter told me he was recording a new favorite band and I should come by. The house/makeshift studio on Austin's East Side was saturated with the alluring voice of Natalie Carol and her solid yet rattling Neil Young-ish band. That was my introduction to Valley Queen, and I've seen them shake the walls at a few venues around the country now, one of which was here at NPR.

It's been a joy to hear the music of Andrew Bird shift and change. Bird's early music, from the late '90s, was steeped in hot jazz and blues music from the early days of the phonograph, then later shifted to new technologies using loop pedals to layer voice, whistling and violin. His lyrics often have a calculated quality, filled with abundant wordplay and observations.

The Ballroom Thieves is a folk trio with a cellist at its core. Singer Calin Peters and her bandmates, guitarist Martin Earley and percussionist Devin Mauch, have now teamed up with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra on a music video for its song "Bury Me Smiling," and the combination makes for a compelling song.

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