Tom Moon

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.

He is the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (Workman Publishing), and a contributor to other books including The Final Four of Everything.

A saxophonist whose professional credits include stints on cruise ships and several tours with the Maynard Ferguson orchestra, Moon served as music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1988 until 2004. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Blender, Spin, Vibe, Harp and other publications, and has won several awards, including two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Music Journalism awards. He has contributed to NPR's All Things Considered since 1996.

Two minutes and 11 seconds into "They Dream," from Bear in Heaven's fourth album Time Is Over One Day Old, the music takes a strange turn. The band has been shuttling along at a riveting adventure-movie clip, with Jon Philpot's reverb-swaddled voice functioning as the primary distinct element in a sleek blur. Then, abruptly, the tempo stops. A wash of Space Mountain synths dissolves slowly — the set has been struck. When Philpot begins to sing again, he's the sole occupant of the spotlight.

Melissa Aldana, who became the first female instrumentalist and first South American musician to win the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition last fall, is not the average talent-contest winner.

"The madness runs in cycles," Tom Clarke sings forebodingly in "The Glow," one of the highlights of the U.K. duo Cloud Boat's second album. The music rushes along, propelled by the high-efficiency tick of a drum loop, but there's no trace of madness or even anxiety in his voice. Instead, Clarke radiates priestly calm as he gives listeners a set of vague, odd instructions: "Take some of these candles," he intones darkly, as if calling from some Middle Ages theater. "The glow will guide you."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Hollywood sadcore is a term singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey came up with to describe her dark, moody pop songs. They're also full of old movie references. The 27-year-old returns this week with a follow-up to her 2012 breakthrough, "Born To Die." That album sold more than a million copies in the U.S. The new release is called "Ultraviolence." Reviewer Tom Moon says that the album is too long, but it shows Del Rey developing a new take on the torch song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRUEL WORLD")

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MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: A jazz singer for the hip-hop generation - that's how Jose James was described after he released his first album last year for the famed Blue Note record label. James has now released a follow-up. It's called, While You Were Sleeping. And reviewer Tom Moon says the 35-year-old shows phenomenal growth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING")

JOSE JAMES: (Singing) Shadows long upon my face. Shadows long upon my face.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Catch up with Jose James now because he's a rarity - an artist evolving at warp speed.

Take 75: Great Solos In Blue Note Records History

May 28, 2014

Blue Note Records has been many things over the course of its 75 years: a label responsible for blinding jazz innovations, a home for the titans of hard bop and soul jazz, a place for smart, sly, jazz-inflected pop creations.

One constant running throughout its history is improvisation. Its records have showcased jazz soloing in every possible mood and temperament. Its artists, both the jazz legends and those journeymen who are little regarded today, have helped shape the ever-evolving notion of what a solo is and what it can be.

When he died in June 2009, Michael Jackson left behind a trove of unfinished recordings — some were released on the 2010 album Michael, while many more were left behind because they were in rough demo form. Jackson's label went through the material, then asked Timbaland and other top producers to finish the King of Pop's ideas with an album called Xscape.

You probably haven't been waiting around for some singer-songwriter to update Harry Chapin's inescapable 1974 hit "Cat's In the Cradle," the slightly cloying tune about the changing dynamic between parents and children over time. And if you did happen to be waiting for such a song, you probably wouldn't put Conor Oberst, noted sensitive indie-rock soul, in charge of writing it.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Merrill Garbus topped critics' polls when her second album came out in 2011. She's the singer and multi-instrumentalist who records as tUnE-yArDs. After that release, she took time for a creative recharge. She studied Haitian drumming and incorporated its rhythms into the third tUnE-yArDs album. It's called "Nikki Nack." It's out today and reviewer Tom Moon thinks it's a knockout.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERRILL GARBUS: (Singing) No water in the water fountain.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Damon Albarn's first solo album is out today. Albarn was the frontman of the acclaimed British rock band Blur in the '90s, and since 2000, he has spearheaded the multi-platinum group Gorillaz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WINDMILL")

GORILLAZ: (Singing) Take it all it on your stride. And it's sticking, falling down. Love forever...

SIEGEL: Reviewer Tom Moon says Albarn's new work seeks out the flipside to the Gorillaz' manic intensity. The new album "Everyday Robots."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYDAY ROBOTS")

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