Put aside your notion of Irish music as a bunch of familiar jigs and reels, and just listen. Martin Hayes plays his fiddle with an exquisite touch and tone, as well as a magnificent sense of melody and rhythm that never ceases to astonish. Guitarist Dennis Cahill provides delicate support.
The fast-rising Brooklyn trio sings beautiful, heartfelt, impeccably harmonized folk-pop songs. Zach Williams sings every word with Springsteen intensity — it's the sort of delivery that doesn't seem like it could get more powerful, until it does.
A guitarist with a decidedly non-standard approach to jazz's standard practices, Halvorson balances golden-era hard-bop order and free improvising entropy. At the NPR Music offices, her band strikes comforting tones, but also morphs, rephrases and implodes those ideas.
We thought Night Beds' Winston Yellen might perform this set solo — all the better to show off his amazing voice, with maybe just his own guitar as backup. But he opted to go all-in with his full touring band, including lap steel and keys. The result is both lighthearted and deeply affecting.
Beneath The xx's tightly controlled image-making lays music that's raw and vulnerable; shy, worried tentativeness is wired into a sound that shimmers powerfully, but remains as fragile and delicate as a soap bubble.
What is it about choral music that hits on such a basic human level? The answer may be found in this performance by Cantus, the male a cappella ensemble from Minnesota, which sings three widely divergent songs from the heart.
Frontman Kevin Barnes has been working on quiet material, and decided to try it out in the intimate confines of the NPR Music offices. The result is a rarely heard side of a band for whom theatricality has long been a means of expression rather than an end unto itself.
With three members of The Decemberists, the band lends a snappy, lilting quality to songs of alienation. Hear Black Prairie perform richly layered versions of songs from last year's A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart.
Miguel turned up in the NPR Music offices early one morning, after playing a show late the night before. Calm and good-natured, he betrayed no hint that he was nervous about stripping his highly produced hits down to their bones.
The sprawling assortment of singers, horn players, guitarists and percussionists is the largest band we've ever hosted at the Tiny Desk. But Tim DeLaughter and his group say they're used to playing a game of "human Tetris," and had no problem squeezing behind Bob Boilen's desk for this special holiday performance.
The Mercury Prize-winning band plays angular, poetic music that takes unexpected turns, shifting gears when you least expect it. Seeing Alt-J live in the NPR Music offices reveals a few of its mysteries, making a group that can be difficult on first listen a bit easier to digest.
Lovett gives a loose, engaging performance that feels like both an introduction and a victory lap. With a fresh-faced accompanist in fiddler and backup singer Luke Bulla, Lovett digs way back into his early archives here: All three of these songs are from his beginnings in the late '80s.
Singing and playing alongside guitarist and longtime collaborator Michael Chorney, the Vermont singer-songwriter performs three of Young Man in America's most bracingly beautiful songs with clear-eyed directness that requires no adornment.