With a gifted backing band on hand to help flesh out three songs from Adventures in Your Own Backyard, Watson conducts a swirl of interlocking loveliness that still finds room for surprises, from a singing saw to a microphone that makes his voice sound as if it's bouncing off some faraway satellite.
Chuck Daellenbach and his fresh-faced players, each with red-striped sneakers and matching outfits, strolled into the NPR Music offices, took their places behind Bob Boilen's desk and started blowing as if they'd played this peculiar gig a hundred times.
The French singer and multi-instrumentalist just released a new album called Skyline, and it captures his aesthetic perfectly: Its rich, buzzy, liltingly eccentric pop music is constructed from lots of sweet, intricate pieces.
While clearly rooted in acoustic traditions, the folk music of Arborea stands out for its calm beauty and rough edges. The duo incorporates harmonium, electric guitars played with an EBow, and a Ban-Jammer — a hybrid instrument that's part banjo, part mountain dulcimer.
The name Chuck Brown might not mean a whole lot to people outside the Washington, D.C., area. That would be their loss. In D.C., Brown is revered as the Godfather of Go-Go. So to have Brown play in a corner of the NPR Music offices with a full, plugged-in 11-member group was like a dream come true for a lot of NPR staffers.
The improvisational music of father and son Pedro Soler and Gaspar Claus functions as a beautiful conversation. Soler plays a delicate flamenco guitar, while Claus turns the cello into an exquisitely expressive voice. The two bring that spirit to their intimate performance in the NPR Music offices.
K Ishibashi is a master of building his music from the ground up, from live violin loops to layered singing to beatboxing, in order to create pocket symphonies steeped in classical music and 21st-century pop. He brings that ingenuity and songcraft to the Tiny Desk at the NPR Music offices.
The Brooklyn jazz quartet began by playing benefit concerts for an ill friend, but the band soon realized it had potential for more. Endangered Blood's music draws from post-bop, 20th-century chromaticism and New Orleans funeral marches, showcasing compositions both cerebral and gritty.
With his brilliant debut, Affirmed, Salsburg is likely to become one of those names we all associate with American folk guitar. Here, he showcases his intricate and melodic fingerpicking in two instrumental songs inspired by the stories of racehorses from the Kentucky Derby.
The New York band Hospitality makes music that's unmistakably friendly and welcoming — it's hug-and-a-handshake pop that lives up to its name by jangling and chiming comfortably. The group doesn't overwhelm so much as it wears listeners down with a subtle charm offensive.
Make a list of bands with integrity, still highly respected and still making music after 25 years, and that list will have Cowboy Junkies near the top. The band remains prolific, tender and poignant, as evidenced by this performance at the NPR Music offices.
It'll take just a few seconds to find out if you're likely to fall in love with Jolie Holland. In this intimate performance at the NPR Music offices, Holland plays songs from 2011's Pint of Blood with an unadorned style that makes her lyrics and voice all the more touching.
Singing in a number of South African languages, as well as English, Soweto Gospel Choir fuses the praise music of many Christian cultures, with nods to traditional African songs of celebration — complete with occasional clicks and bird songs.
Novalima infuses traditional Peruvian music with new life by adding electronic sounds to create songs that sound both familiar and new. In this performance at the NPR Music offices, the band plays in a lean, funky configuration that gets the room grooving along.
Caveman writes guitar-based pop songs full of subtlety and space and melodies you can carry around in your head. The band's songcraft and handcrafted instruments are on display in this performance at the NPR Music offices.