The Best Songs of 2003

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It certainly is the age of the song. The days of the MP3 aren't so different from the days of the 45 rpm. You pay a buck; the quality is good, but not as good as its more expensive counterpart. Back in the days of the 45, you'd stack your faves on a round 45 adapter, best side up, and one by one they would play, the tone arm lifting off the record long enough for the next 45 to magically fall onto the platter and play. You'd hope it wouldn't skip. The days of the 45 or even mix tapes seem antiquated in the age of the iPod and homemade CD's. We've "streamed" our picks for 2003's best songs, so click to listen and hope it doesn't skip!

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The Best Songs of 2003

Fever to Tell

Maps

  • Artist: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • Album: Fever to Tell
  • Song: Maps

"The only reason to believe all the hype on this band. It's not post-punk or nuevo-garage or whatever overwrought jargon the band has been labeled with - it's a soulful, bittersweet break-up song."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett

"Very close to being my album of the year and this song is one of the main reasons. One of the most intense, emotional rock releases in recent memory."

-- KEXP morning DJ John Richards

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Fever to Tell
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Interscope

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Room on Fire

12:51

  • Artist: The Strokes
  • Album: Room on Fire
  • Song: 12:51

"It's the song of the summer, only in the fall: ephemeral and catchy, invoking everything good about the Cars, Blondie, and getting lost between bars on a Friday night in New York."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett

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12:51
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Room on Fire
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The Strokes
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RCA

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It Still Moves

Golden

  • Artist: My Morning Jacket
  • Album: It Still Moves
  • Song: Golden

"An absolutely hauntingly beautiful traveling song to play again and again on headphones during rainstorms."

-- NPR reviewer Mikel Jollett

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Golden
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It Still Moves
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My Morning Jacket
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RCA

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It Still Moves

Mangeetah

  • Artist: My Morning Jacket
  • Album: It Still Moves
  • Song: Mangeetah

"A glorious rock anthem and it's almost like the band won't let themselves finish it."

-- World Cafe host David Dye

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Mangeetah
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It Still Moves
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My Morning Jacket
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RCA

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The Transient

Ashes on the Highway

  • Artist: Dave Dondero
  • Album: Transient
  • Song: Ashes on the Highway

"This is the sound of a man on fire. Smart, funny and honestly out of his mind; but he comes back long enough to sing about it. One of the best singer/songwriters I've ever heard."

-- All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

"In a good year for songs about death -- half of Dave Matthews' Some Devil meditates on it -- this dramatic little ode is among the most unusual, wry and haunting at the same time."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

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Ashes on the Highway
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The Transient
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David Dondero
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Future Farmer

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Sumday

Now It's On

  • Artist: Grandaddy
  • Album: Sumday
  • Song: Now It's On

"If you've been in the house too long, staring at the screen, roll down the car windows and sing this song, and sing it loudly. This is why pop music makes great radio."

-- All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

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Now It's On
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Sumday
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Grandaddy

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The Raven

Who Am I?

  • Artist: Lou Reed
  • Album: The Raven
  • Song: Who Am I?

"Reed made another brilliant record this year, and few noticed. It wasn't an easy listen. It's not easy to sum up the magic and wonder of life in a 4-minute song. But he did. One day, if you are over 50, you will need this song."

--All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen

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Who Am I?
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The Raven
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Lou Reed
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Sire/reprise

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Shine

I Love You

  • Artist: Daniel Lanois
  • Album: Shine
  • Song: I Love You

"Lanois' preternatural gifts as a producer have never been more evident than on this piece. How does he do it? What does he Lanois know that other producers and musicians don't? The remarkable world of sound Lanois creates in this beautiful work of art literally gives me goose bumps."

-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton

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I Love You
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Shine
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Daniel Lanois
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Anti-

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Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lakes State

Romulus

  • Artist: Sufjan Stevens
  • Album: Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State
  • Song: Romulus

"From my runner-up for best album of the year: a deeply personal and intimate collection of delicate songs of love, sorrow and remembrance. This song brought tears to my eyes, and that's enough for me. We'll be hearing a lot more from Sufjan Stevens in the coming years."-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton

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Romulus
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Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lakes State
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Sufjan Stevens
Label
Sounds Familyre

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Give Up

The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

  • Artist: The Postal Service
  • Album: Give Up
  • Song: The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

"This cross-state collaboration (through the mail and Internet) between Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello showed what music could be in the 21st century. It's a brilliant marriage of electronica and indie rock. This is the stand-out track."

-- All Songs Considered producer Robin Hilton

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The District Sleeps Alone Tonight
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Give Up
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The Postal Service
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Sub Pop

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Speakerboxxx / The Love Below

Happy Valentine's Day

  • Artist:
  • Album:
  • Song: Happy Valentine's Day

"'Happy Valentine's Day' from Outkast's amazingly all-over-the- place Speakerboxxx/The Love Below has rapper cum-singer Andre 3000 playing a thugged-out Cupid, an idea I really like. 'Now when arrows don't penetrate/Cupid grabs a pistol and shoots straight for your heart.' It's part spoken word, part rap, and part indelible chorus - strange construction, great song."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

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Happy Valentine's Day
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Speakerboxxx / The Love Below
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Outkast

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Transatlanticism

Title and Registration

  • Artist: Death Cab for Cutie
  • Album: Transatlanticism
  • Song: Title and Registration

"Singer Ben Gibbard was responsible for two of my fave LPs this year: Give Up by the Postal Service and Transatlaticism by his main group, Death Cab for Cutie. The latter has 'Title and Registration,' the only song I know that finds the depths of heartbreak in a glove compartment."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

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Title and Registration
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Transatlanticism
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Death Cab for Cutie
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Barsuk

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Lost in Translation (Soundtrack)

Kaze Wo Atsumete

  • Artist: Original Soundtrack
  • Album: Lost In Translation
  • Song: Kaze Wo Atsumete

"I think 'Lost in Translation' is one of the year's loveliest films, and music played a huge role in the spell it cast. The entire soundtrack is good, but I especially like 'Kaze Wo Atsumete' by Japan's Happy End. It sounds like something off James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, and while I have no idea what the guy is singing about, it still makes me happy every time I hear it."

-- NPR reviewer Will Hermes

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Kaze Wo Atsumete
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Lost in Translation (Soundtrack)
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Happy End
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Emperor Norton

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Youth and Young Manhood

Molly's Chambers

  • Artist: Kings of Leon
  • Album: Youth & Young Manhood
  • Song: Molly's Chambers

"You can keep the Strokes and even the White Stripes. It's all about Kings of Leon. They take garage rock down south, to the land of the Allman Brothers and Leon Russell. This is a perfect rock song: lean and mean with a killer beat and primal, gut piercing riffs. When I was a kid, I loved punk and garage rock and I used to laugh at people who listened to any song over 3 minutes. Now I love Southern rock more than anything, especially the Allmans. So this song marries my past to my present."

-- NPR reviewer Meredith Ochs

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Molly's Chambers
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Youth and Young Manhood
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Kings of Leon
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RCA

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Failer

Six O'Clock News

  • Artist: Kathleen Edwards
  • Album: Failer
  • Song: Six O'Clock News

"Edwards is a young Canadian who made a big splash this year. This song opens her debut album, and it paints quite a picture. It's sung from the perspective of a girl who comes home to find her boyfriend - who has apparently committed a crime - holed up with a gun in their apartment, surrounded by police and TV camera crews. As a copy shoots and kills him, she reveals that she's pregnant with his child. When I met Edwards, I asked her what inspired the song. She said she was living in a rural area and just gotten cable, and she'd been watching a lot of CNN. I never watch CNN, but I guess they broadcast a lot of this stuff. The song also has a killer hook and a melody that stays in your head for days."

-- NPR reviewer Meredith Ochs

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Six O'Clock News
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Failer
Artist
Kathleen Edwards

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The Soul of John Black

Scandalous (No. 9)

  • Artist: The Soul of John Black
  • Album: Soul of John Black
  • Song: Scandalous (No. 9)

The dual solo offering of Outkast was a constant presence in the car, right alongside the debut of this extraordinary duo, John Bigham and Christopher Thomas. Starting at the crowded intersection of R&B and hip hop, they gather in elements of the blues and psychedelic rock and Stevie Wonder-ish vocal improvisation, yet never sound pretentious."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

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The Soul of John Black
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The Soul of John Black
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No Mayo

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The Bandwagon

Ringing My Phone

  • Artist: Jason Moran
  • Album: The Bandwagon
  • Song: Ringing My Phone

Accompanying the happy, chattering taped voice of his Istanbul tour guide with darting piano trio counterpoint, Jason Moran here creates a new kind of jazz interaction. Simply amazing."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Moon

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Ringing My Phone
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The Bandwagon
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Jason Moran
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Blue Note

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The Meadowlands

Everyone Chooses Sides

  • Artist: The Wrens
  • Album: Meadowlands
  • Song: Everyone Chooses Sides

"It's been seven years since the last Wrens album and it'll be seven more before this song gets out of my head."

-- KEXP morning DJ John Richards

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Everyone Chooses Sides
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The Meadowlands
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The Wrens
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BB Island

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The Soul Sessions

Super Duper Love

  • Artist: Joss Stone
  • Album: The Soul Sessions
  • Song: Super Duper Love

The first time I heard the album that this song comes from, I assumed that Joss was most likely a thirtyish black woman from Philadelphia. She's actually a blonde haired sixteen year old white girl from the south of England with a that can only be described as a gift."

-- Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt

"I honestly heard this for the first time not knowing her age or her ethnicity and told the World Cafe staff to book her and that I would strew rose petals up the steps to our studios in front of her. Each 'wait a minute' sucks you in to this perfect arrangement.

-- World Cafe host David Dye

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Super Duper Love
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The Soul Sessions
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Joss Stone
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S-curve

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It All Starts Here…

They

  • Artist: Jem
  • Album: It All Starts Here... [EP]
  • Song: They

"Jem is somebody whose demos I first heard almost a year ago. She's a star in the making from Wales in the UK with a sound that mixes dreamy vocals with well written songs incorporating beats and samples."

--Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt

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They
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It All Starts Here…
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Jem
Label
Ato

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Hello Starling

Kathleen

  • Artist: Josh Ritter
  • Album: Hello Starling
  • Song: Kathleen

"Tops in singer/songwriter-dom. When you talk with Josh and find out that the night he mentions in this song had more to do with having the car keys for the first time than the girl, it completely takes me back."

-- World Café host David Dye

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Kathleen
Album
Hello Starling
Artist
Josh Ritter

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Free Country

This Land Is Your Land

  • Artist: Joel Harrison
  • Album: Free Country
  • Song: This Land Is Your Land

"Rubbery notes on guitar by Harrison suggest it's go into be a radical reinterpretation of the Woody Guthrie song, but soon Uri Caine's piano places the rendition in a jazz context, as does David Binney's sax. But the performance ultimately transcends genre: it's just a new way of looking at a familiar tune, a beloved American classic. For me, it became a metaphor for how we have to remember to look at the US with fresh, probing eyes and understand that America is a work in progress, subject to a variety of affectionate interpretations."

-- NPR reviewer Jim Fusilli

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This Land Is Your Land
Album
Free Country
Artist
Joel Harrison
Label
ACT

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Shootenanny!

Saturday Morning

  • Artist: Eels
  • Album: Shootenanny!
  • Song: Saturday Morning

"A get-up-and-go song told from the point of view of an eight year old eager to start the weekend. It instantly reminds me of how much fun it is to think like a kid. it's one of the high points of a very, very good album by Mark Oliver Everet and the band."

-- NPR reviewer Jim Fusilli

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Saturday Morning
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Shootenanny!
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Eels
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Spin Art

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Hittin' the Note

Old Friend

  • Artist: The Allman Brothers Band
  • Album: Hittin' the Note
  • Song: Old Friend

"I love the interplay between Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on this acoustic blues. It's the closing track on a terrific album from a band I'd thought was on life support. Maybe their best studio album in 30 years, thanks to Haynes and Trucks."

-- NPR Reviewer Jim Fusilli

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Old Friend
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Hittin' the Note
Artist
The Allman Brothers Band
Label
Sanctuary

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Congo Life

Issake Shango

  • Artist: Kekele
  • Album: Congo Life
  • Song: Issake Shango

"The dance pop music of the Congo is full of formulas, but it didn't become the most popular dance music in Africa by accident. On this song, everything hits home - the singing, the arranging, the instrumental and vocal hooks, the production, and sterling acoustic guitar work to boot. No matter how disillusioned I become with all the posing and recycling in this music, I can put this on and remember all at once why I still love Congolese music so much."

-- NPR reviewer Banning Eyre

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Issake Shango
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Congo Life
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Kekele
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Stern's Africa

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Radio Kaboul

Hama More (All My Life)

  • Artist: Ustad Mahwash/Ensemble Kaboul
  • Album: Radio Kaboul
  • Song: Hama More (All My Life)

"This remake of a classic from old Afghanistan radio number spotlights the country's ties with North Indian culture, although the notes say the song is Persian. Whatever its origin, there's something in the lyrical melody, the unusual mode, the complex rhythm -- a slow waltz, but with a rolling, swinging undercurrent -- the searing violin and soaring voice of the revitalized radio diva, Mahwash, that is pure magic. I put this on and melt every time."

-- NPR reviewer Banning Eyre

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Hama More (All My Life)
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Radio Kaboul
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Mahwash
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Accords Croisés

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True Love Waits

Knives Out

  • Artist: Christopher O'Riley
  • Album: True Love Waits: O'Riley Plays Radiohead
  • Song: Knives Out

Performance Today host Fred Child's pick.

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Knives Out
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True Love Waits
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Christopher O'Riley
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Odessey

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Stacie Orrico

More to Life

  • Artist: Stacie Orrico
  • Album: Stacie Orrico
  • Song: More to Life

"This is my pancultural hit of the year -- deep structures of layered dance rhythms, perfect complex counterpoint, spiritual message within 'hot' street-dance genre. Big-time modulation at the high point. Traditional Ground Bass structure (not unlike the Baroque period). This is the blending of several cultural strains beyond style and time."

-- NPR reviewer Tom Manoff

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More to Life
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Stacie Orrico
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