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Ned Wharton

Imagine being able to lay down your burdens and fly away from Earth — to a place of harmony, where discrimination is left behind. That dream is the basis of the song "Blackstronauts" by Britton & The Sting, a standout entry in this year's Tiny Desk Contest. Britton Smith, who wrote the song, tells Weekend Edition he wrote "Blackstronauts" while thinking about one particular burden: the need for affirmation.

Linda Ronstadt — the chart-topping, Grammy- and Emmy-winning Rock & Roll Hall of Famer — is due to be honored again this week. This time, she'll receive a Hispanic Heritage Award, in recognition both of her pop music and her smash-hit mariachi albums. Ahead of the virtual ceremony, which will be broadcast by PBS on Oct. 6, she joined NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro to talk about the role of her Mexican-American identity in her career and what music she's been listening to lately.

This year's Tiny Desk Contest wrapped up at the beginning of August with the announcement of our winner, Linda Diaz, and her song "Green Tea Ice Cream." But NPR Music's panel of judges saw over 6000 entries from around the country, and there was more than one incredible submission.

A lot of music these days has to be made in isolation, but Jacob Collier an old-pro at that. The cover of the 26 year old's debut album, In My Room, was a 3-D shot of Collier surrounded by instruments in the room where he arranged, played, recorded and produced the album — the same room he played music in growing up, in the house in London and where he lives with his mother and sisters and connected with NPR's Scott Simon.

Kathleen Edwards had devoted fans and a successful career, with hits on the Billboard Top 40 charts and songwriting awards. But after her last album in 2012, she walked away from the music business. In fact, she opened a cafe in the suburbs of Ottawa, Canada, called Quitters Coffee.

The band Woods has always incorporated diffuse influences, taking inspiration from lo-fi rock, Ethiopian jazz and psychedelic folk sounds. Guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Earl, who recently became a father, says his group's latest album, Strange To Explain was influenced by something else — a lack of sleep.

"Those first few months or first year of having a newborn kind of put me in a dreamlike state," he says. "And that was my escape: to start writing."

In this time of social distancing, hunkering down and chatting remotely, we might learn some new things about each other. For example, you might know Marin Alsop as the longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading figures in classical music around the world and a frequent guest on Weekend Edition. But you might not know that back in the 1980s, she also led a swing band.

Harry Nilsson's concept album The Point turns fifty this year; to celebrate, the 1971 animated film adapted from the music will be released digitally and on BluRay for the first time. Nilsson, a beloved if occasionally overlooked writer of late 1960s pop hits, died in 1994, but his strange and endearing fairy tale album still resonates with those that remember it.

James Taylor has been a household name for a long time now. Taylor was just 20-years-old when he released his self-titled debut in 1968; in the half century since then, he has sold over 100 million albums and cemented his status as one of the most successful American singer-songwriters.

Afrobeat will probably always be associated with one man, one time and one country — Fela Kuti, in late 1960s Nigeria. But for the past 20 years, Antibalas has been establishing Brooklyn, N.Y., as a new center of the Afrobeat universe. The band's seventh studio album was just released and it has a name that calls back to its martial arts origins: Fu Chronicles.

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