Ann Powers

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.

In 2018, country rock will be 50 years old; that's according to most official histories, anyway, which mark the subgenre's beginnings with the release of two Gram Parsons projects, the International Submarine Band's Safe At Home and The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Why not celebrate a little early?

With the nominees recently announced, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards return to New York City, taking place at Madison Square Garden on January 28. Over the years, World Cafe has had numerous visits from those nominated and those who've won.

Emily West is one of those rare talents who leaves new fans wondering: Where have you been all my life? Her voice has the raw power and gem-like beauty of an old-fashioned pop star; indeed, she won second place on television's America's Got Talent in 2014.

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.

Becca Mancari likes to take the long way around. The Nashville singer-songwriter was born in Staten Island, grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed her love of American roots music during her student days in Virginia. She's traveled the country and the world; some of the spaciousness in her hypnotic, subtle songs comes from lessons she learned while on a walkabout in India.

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