Ann Powers

Caitlyn Smith has a voice that grabs you the first time you hear it. Her high register conjures thoughts of purple mountain majesty. When she drops into a murmur, it feels like she's telling you a secret she's never told anyone before. Considering those pipes, it's surprising that it took Smith 15 years to find her footing in Nashville.

In the movies, songs often signify absence, or distance, a gap difficult to fill through plotting or dialogue. Entering the space between desire and communion, bondage and freedom, or grief and comfort, songs reinforce the reassuring magic of cinema.

With a little help, Kacey Musgraves has spent the past five years building a new musical world in Nashville. Now, with two new songs from her upcoming album Golden Hour, she's showing the world that she is fully living in it.

Nashville rock is fun, loud and often trashy, but the best bands push themselves beyond mere noise into visionary territory. Idle Bloom is a band that's grown from its roots in the all-ages punk scene to become one of the city's most musically compelling and lyrically insightful ensembles.

Who in the pop world but Janelle Monae could pack dystopian Afro-Futurism, sleek runway style, action sequences, club hotness and tender love into thirty seconds?

When people ask about the rock 'n' roll sound of Nashville, locals might direct them to the garage rock scene, to Jack White's Third Man Records, or to guitar-slinging country outlaws like Sturgill Simpson or Eric Church. But they'd be remiss to leave out Moon Taxi, a band that's grown a large and devoted fan base in Music City since forming at Belmont College 10 years ago.

This is NPR Music's live blog of the 2018 Grammy Awards. The telecast of the awards show is scheduled to run from 7:30 until 11:00 p.m. ET. We'll be here the whole time, updating this post with every award or performance.

If you travel in Nashville's singer-songwriter circles, or literary circles, or progressive activist circles, you've probably witnessed Mary Gauthier bring a room to tears. Born in New Orleans, Gauthier has lived in Music City since 2001 and made her mark on both the mainstream country and Americana worlds.

Here's a fact few white American musicians feel comfortable facing: every kind of American music, from Top-40 pop to high mountain bluegrass, has some root in the work and creativity of people of color. Arguments about appropriation surface most commonly when artists are clearly borrowing from well-known sources; Justin Timberlake's decision to repackage his blue-eyed funk in Ralph Lauren-style quasi-neutrals is the latest example of white performers side-stepping the fact that they owe their very souls to black collaborators, acknowledged or not.

In July, NPR published Turning The Tables, it's list of the 150 Greatest Albums By Women during the "classic album" era. Our occasional listening parties bring together voters to discuss some of their favorites from the list.

Today, we are considering classic albums by two singers who both died too young, but still had time enough to embody the freedom and heartache of their respective generations.

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Today we're remembering a man who transformed American pop music. Jim Burns was not a well-known musician himself. He created the program "MTV Unplugged," and he was the show's executive producer during its original run through the '90s.

Wrapping up a year of some incredible sessions, this week, World Cafe is digging into the archives for some of its best performances and interviews of 2017.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

Last summer I took my daughter to Vans Warped Tour for the first time. She'd been clamoring to go since the first time she'd walked into a Hot Topic store and bought a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the band Black Veil Brides; deeply devoted to that band and its sweetly philosophical, doe-eyed singer Andy Biersack, she'd even had their album cover painted on her eleventh birthday cake. By age 13 she'd become utterly versed in current pop-punk and grunge-indebted metal, shouting along to her playlists of Neck Deep and Attila songs in the car.

Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter, collectively known as Penny & Sparrow, are pin-drop performers, the kind which silence rooms with impeccable songs and storytelling that unfolds like a dream. The duo has amassed a devoted following in six years, and traveled from Austin, Texas to Muscle Shoals, Ala., now splitting its time between the two musical centers.

In 2018, country rock will be 50 years old; that's according to most official histories, anyway, which mark the subgenre's beginnings with the release of two Gram Parsons projects, the International Submarine Band's Safe At Home and The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Why not celebrate a little early?

With the nominees recently announced, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards return to New York City, taking place at Madison Square Garden on January 28. Over the years, World Cafe has had numerous visits from those nominated and those who've won.

Emily West is one of those rare talents who leaves new fans wondering: Where have you been all my life? Her voice has the raw power and gem-like beauty of an old-fashioned pop star; indeed, she won second place on television's America's Got Talent in 2014.

Willie Watson feels his way through America's musical history by sliding an old bottleneck against the strings of his acoustic guitar. He finds it in the grain of his own voice, cultivated over 20 years of singing old songs his own way. First as a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now in his own solo career, Watson has brought folk-based roots music alive for new listeners in the 21st century.

It's always a little irritating when women in rock bands are dubbed "vulnerable." The word is often meant as a compliment, but one given without consideration to the fact that music always opens up its makers to a wide range of emotions. And as if women, in particular, bear some magical burden of openness, lacking the ability to rage and strut and cause trouble like guys do.

What does vulnerability sound like, anyway? Maybe it's just the willingness to occasionally sound awkward. To hit a bum note. To say the thing that makes you look a little dumb.

Becca Mancari likes to take the long way around. The Nashville singer-songwriter was born in Staten Island, grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed her love of American roots music during her student days in Virginia. She's traveled the country and the world; some of the spaciousness in her hypnotic, subtle songs comes from lessons she learned while on a walkabout in India.

When Margo Price wailed, "Let's go back to Tennessee," on her 2016 breakthrough album Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she meant more than her current home town of Nashville. The queen of East Nashville has a long relationship with Memphis, forged through collaboration with producer Matt Ross-Spang, one of the young movers and shakers who's helping put that other mid-South music capitol and its classic studios back on the recording map.