For all the fetishization of Craig Finn's words — which he's spit out in knotty bundles on many albums by rock bands The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller — he's usually careful to dress them up in brash, populist sounds. His desperate, damaged characters may live their lives on the brink, keeping one eye trained on the redemption brought about by some combination of God and rock 'n' roll, but Finn rarely leaves their stories unadorned.
The first time I saw Pokey LaFarge, he was walking around the grounds of the 2010 Newport Folk Festival wearing a suit and tie, with his hair slicked down. To tell the truth, I thought, "Who is this guy?
Just when you think you know Cuban music, along comes the Creole Choir of Cuba. This group sprang from the ashes of Grupo Vocal Desandann, a small vocal outfit created in the late 1990s to celebrate traces of Haitian culture in eastern Cuba. That history dates back to the late 18th century, when slaves from Haiti were delivered to Cuba to harvest sugarcane after successful slave revolts in Haiti. A long-lost culture was revitalized by the group through music performed largely a cappella and entirely in Haitian Creole.
It was early, maybe half an hour before Bill Frisell was set to arrive for his Tiny Desk Concert. Already, a crowd here at NPR was buzzing around, waiting to hear Frisell make his magic and watching him set up an array of pedals. I've never seen anyone play guitar the way Frisell plays: What I hear is a man on a mission of discovery, where one chord, one note, one effect can send him in unplanned, uncharted directions.
One of the best features of our Tiny Desk Concert series is the occasional opportunity to hear a band perform its songs as they were written: with just an acoustic guitar and unamplified voices. That's the case with Girl In A Coma. In an interview, singer Nina Diaz said she writes the band's songs by closing herself off with just a notepad and her acoustic guitar.