Listen to Laura Mvula's terrific full-length debut, Sing to the Moon, and you'll hear soulful pop music in Technicolor. The U.K. singer's sonic ambition is boundless: Her intricately layered songs straddle genres, locations and eras in ways that sound entirely original.
If you sample the first few notes of guitarist John Scofield's new album, Uberjam Deux, you might mistake it for something out of West Africa. But a spin through the tracks takes you to another hemisphere with a sound right out of Jamaica, then to American shores with a soulful homage to Al Green.
Taj Mahal has a degree in animal husbandry and agronomy, and planned to be a farmer. Music was just something he did.
"No matter what went down, music was always going to be a part of my life," the guitarist and singer says. "What ultimately happened is that, over a period of time, I just kind of looked around and when like, 'Wow! I'm actually making a living doing this.'"
Henry D'Arthenay grew up in Caracas, Venezuela — a country currently rife with political conflict. As lead singer of the Venezuelan alt-rock band La Vida Bohème, D'Arthenay used that chaos for fuel in constructing the band's latest album, Será, which was released in April.
Smith Dobson was one of the most sought-after pianists of the Bay Area when he died in a car crash in 2001. He was part of a musical family — his wife, Gail, a jazz singer; his son a drummer. His daughter, Sasha Dobson, was a scat singer who followed the family's jazz muse until her dad's tragic death.
Longtime Chicago radioman Jim Nayder brought ear-aching music from his Annoying Music Show to Weekend Edition for many years. He died on Friday at the age of 59. Host Scott Simon has this remembrance of his friend.
Jim Nayder was a sweet soul and a cockeyed wit in a world with too little of both. He said annoying music wasn't bad, so much as good songs recorded by big stars who should have known better.
Maya Beiser's Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She's a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she's tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove. Then there's her magnificent sense of melody.
The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and on the big day, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture will be heard from coast to coast, complete with fireworks and cannons. But how did a Russian composition, depicting the rout of Napoleon's Army, end up as the unofficial soundtrack for our most quintessentially American holiday?