Ann Powers

Where will you live after the apocalypse? That question becomes more relevant once you realize the apocalypse is now, and ongoing, with society unmaking itself in convulsions and recovering in spurts. And the place where it's leaving Americans is what Erika M. Andersen calls the Outer Ring. It's that circular band of highways and avenues surrounding a city, where vape shops share strip-mall space with Halal butchers and Triple XXX Pleasure Zones, and immigrants stand at the bus stop next to Trump voters while their children get stoned together in the Kwik Mart parking lot.

Tristen Gaspadarek and Buddy Hughen share a house in the graveyard of a golf club, where they make music that captures the stubborn hope and creeping obsolescence at the heart of modern life. Tristen, who performs and records under her first name, was raised in Chicago but moved to Nashville a decade ago. There she met the guitarist and producer Hughen, and the pair was soon collaborating.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

The country-music business is show business, whether the bright lights shine at the Grand Ole Opry or at a small dance hall on a lonely Western highway. Mark Wystrach, lead singer for Midland, learned the ropes of that business working at his parents' restaurant and dance hall, the Steak Out, in Sonoita, Ariz. Later he became an actor in Los Angeles, where he met Jess Carson, an Oregon farmer's son, and Cameron Duddy, a Hollywood kid whose love of music had led him to country, too.

A few years ago, my friend Jill Sternheimer and I started a conversation one night while driving around the streets of New Orleans. Both of us are music nerds, and we regularly attend the kinds of musical retrospectives that have become common in this age of historical exploration via tribute shows and historical playlists. Jill, in fact, often organizes such shows at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where she is the director of public programs. I sometimes write about them, and often ponder how music history's being recorded and revised in the digital age.

If you stumble into the right basement in Nashville, Tenn., you will hear some of the most inventive and lovely psychedelic rock being made just about anywhere. Sun Seeker is one of Music City's freshest new rock bands. It's inspired by 1960s legends like The Band and '90s rockers like Pavement, creating a unique blend of Southern whimsy and fuzzy, melodic rock.

A mysterious photograph appeared across various social media platforms Monday morning, depicting three dashing women — two in cowboy hats, one holding a pair of spectacles — lounging at a wooden table teeming with the evidence of a long night out. NEW BAND ALERT: BERMUDA TRIANGLE, the caption read. Anyone attuned to the Americana scene recognized the one in the middle: Brittany A. Howard, the main rule-breaker in Americana music's most exciting band of this century, the Alabama Shakes.

Daddy Issues formed out of friendship in 2014 and has become one of Nashville's most exciting punk bands. Guitarist Jenna Moynihan, bassist Jenna Mitchell and drummer Emily Maxwell all came to the city to attend Belmont University and met through its thriving DIY scene. Blending a love of noise with powerful melodicism and a knack for capturing the ups and downs of millennial life, Daddy Issues is part of a wave of young women challenging the clichés of both rock music and feminism.

Maybe contemporary country music will make sense again, now that Shania Twain is back to set the record straight.

There are very few artists who can bring the past into the present in a way that captures both the nuance of history and the immediacy of now. But Rhiannon Giddens has done it, beautifully, on her second solo album, Freedom Highway.

When Tyler Childers was 20, he was living in Lexington, Ky., playing in bars where he couldn't yet legally drink and gaining a reputation as a redheaded wunderkind. Even then, Childers had a rich and earthy voice, with a bit of gravel that lent him gravitas. He sang the blues and country classics, but wrote his own songs too, determined to capture the rhythms of his region in the stories he shared.

For a 20-something, Colter Wall has a startlingly deep voice. His songwriting is full of hard-won wisdom — there are tales of wandering and working, of murder and mystery, that tap into the old, weird lore of North America. And although he's based in Kentucky and spends a lot of time in Nashville, Wall was actually raised in Swift Creek, Saskatchewan.

The new album Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child) was never meant to be a tribute. Brandi Carlile is far too modest and clear-headed to puff herself up that way.

Styles Of The Times

May 16, 2017

Angaleena Presley tells it like it is. The Kentucky native first gained national attention as one-third of the Pistol Annies, the groundbreaking country trio that also included Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe.

The nominations are in for the 16th annual Americana Awards, to be held Sept. 13 in Nashville as the signature event of AmericanaFest — and in at least one category, they tell a tale of how this progressive yet traditionalist community is rising to the political challenges of a complicated historical moment. Four of the five releases in the Album of the Year category have protest at their core, demonstrating how the genre is stretching itself even as it builds on long-established artistic family ties.

Ruby Amanfu is a treasured member of Nashville's creative community and a star on the rise. Born in Ghana, she moved with her family to Nashville when she was 3; her musical gifts emerged soon after.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Charlie Worsham is ready for his close-up. The 31-year-old Mississippi native moved to Nashville 10 years ago after attending Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music. He's been a favorite of country music insiders ever since. Worsham released his first solo album, Rubber Band, in 2013; now, he's offering his second, Beginning Of Things, out April 21.

Not much in contemporary music rivals standing under a roof with Chris Stapleton and his band as they raise it in honor of American music. Stapleton ascended to stardom after sweeping the 2016 CMA Awards for his powerful debut album Traveller, but by then the 38-year-old Kentuckian Nashville mainstay had spent a young lifetime in the slipstreams of Southern sound, and already understood how commitment, craft and love can make listeners' preconceptions about what's cool or current fall away.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

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