Oklahoma has proven one of the most reliable breeding grounds for young singer-songwriter talent over the past few years. The latest to come out swinging is 20-year-old folk-rock artist Parker Millsap. His self-titled debut doesn't dally in navel-gazing observations, but unpacks the complex symbiosis between faith, fear, desperation and repentance. In "Truck Stop Gospel," his narration is so astute it's impossible to tell what side he's on — not that it matters. After all, the task of a great song is to hold a mirror to humanity; what it all means is in the eye of the beholder. --Kim Ruehl, Folk Alley
I've had the pleasure of listening to Ana Tijoux's upcoming album Vengo — and you will too when NPR Music premieres the record in March. It's all brilliant, but my favorite song by far is the opening title track. Horn heavy, punctuated with a great beat and strung together with sweet flutes, Tijoux establishes a fun, energetic vibe that rescues Andean wind instruments from the mind numbing "world music" corner they've been relegated to. It's also a lyrical mood setter for the record- a song about indigenous pride in an album that is feisty but laid back, firm without being preachy or defensive. –Jasmine Garsd, Alt.Latino
Bonnie "Prince" Billy, a.k.a. Will Oldham, is one of the few musicians whose taste I completely trust, and he had Angel Olsen sing back-up vocals on two of his albums. So I knew the pipes were good ... but wow, I wasn't expecting her new album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, to burn quite this bright. Olsen's been compared to Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison and Cat Power so far, but she's really got her own thing going in this gnarly corner of the alt-country pasture. This sounds like the beginning of a long and storied career. –Mark Wheat, The Current
Unlike a lot of jazz records I hear these days that sound like "then," this particular session feels like "now." Featuring a cool hybrid of electronic textures, modern beat science, R&B horn stabs, and short bursts of laid-back improvisational funkiness, Takuya Kuroda and his stellar band bring a fresh energy and flavor to today's instrumental music-making. This track, in particular, has a slow funky groove that just won't quit. –Nick Francis, Jazz24
Laura Cantrell decamped to the town of her birth, Nashville, Tennessee, from her New York City home to record her stellar new album, No Way There From Here. It is notable that working in Nashville, with the likes of Jim Lauderdale and Caitlin Rose, she has made her most "pop" record yet. Case in point: the opening song "All The Girls Are Complicated." Twelve-string guitars and horns take it out of country territory, and lyrically, it's an advice column for the guys: "Find the one that makes you laugh / Find the one that takes your breath 'way. / For you won't get everything that you want." –David Dye, World Cafe
Hundreds of songs have been written about New York City, and yet it's impossible to tire of new songs about it, especially one with a chorus that so perfectly sums up the city's simultaneous noise, brilliance, heartbreak and promise. Elbow frontman Guy Garvey delivers the song's sad-yet-hopeful perspective, informed by his recent time living in Brooklyn and inspired by the refuge John Lennon and Yoko Ono found in Manhattan. The story of another well-known New York couple, C.B.G.B. scenesters Dennis and Lois, make the accompanying video a moving ode to all that has gone and still remains. --Carmel Holt, WFUV
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Few songs elicit the kind of reaction that "Take Me To Church" enjoyed straight-away on the KCRW airwaves. From the first airing, we've had calls, Tweets, and a general buzz for this newcomer from Ireland. Credit (to some degree) the familiar quality of this bluesy ballad, but personally, I couldn't help but think of Elton John when I first heard it — that's hardly a bad thing. With an undeniable fire in his voice, a lyric that paints an urgent tale of spiritual love, and a video that takes on the persecution of the LGBT community in society, this is a song that resonates with power and meaning. –Jason Bentley, KCRW
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Every city has "the band that should have been HUGE." In the music mecca of Los Angeles, that list is nearly endless, but NO have broken through the clutter with a fully-formed debut, El Prado. NO started in 2010 when frontman (and New Zealand transplant) Bradley Hanan Carter met bassist Sean Daniel Stentz at a coffee shop. Now a sextet, the band's toured widely for the last two years and developed a sound at once familiar (The National, Interpol) and all their own. "Leave The Door Wide Open" is the opening track from their terrific new album. --Matt Casebeer, opbmusic.org
Both Ken Thomson and the JACK Quartet specialize in extremes of endurance and intense thorniness. Thomson – saxophonist and clarinetist for the avant garde marching band Asphalt Orchestra, spazz-jazz-punk outfit Gutbucket, and the Bang on a Can All-Stars – is a musician better associated with ear-piercing shrills, multiphonic honks and free-jazz freakouts than warmth or lyricism. JACK has earned its reputation with ecstatic takes on far-from-center composers like Iannis Xenakis, Georg Friedrich Haas and Helmut Lachenmann. What's most impressive about their collaboration Thaw is how it couples that signature eclecticism with an irresistible warmth and (dare I say) earworm accessibility. Spring is on its way. –Hannis Brown, Q2 Music
D.C. artist and commercial composer Louis Weeks jams a lot of ideas into his debut album, shift/away. The product is a scrupulous electro-pop record that's dotted with references, particularly to literature, design and architecture — and sometimes it can seem a tad over-thought. But the record's warm and pulsating single, "Fold," ties all of Weeks' bristly ideas together: Based on origami, it's an extended metaphor for his creative process, which sounds about as meticulous as the delicate art of paper-folding. --Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's Bandwidth