Ann Powers

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.

If you're out in the clubs in Nashville in 2017, you have a good chance of discovering the powerful, lyrical voice of Kyshona. The South Carolina native came to Nashville after a long stint in Athens, Ga.'s singer-songwriter circles. She soon found her place in the city as part of both the soul and rock scenes and has released two independent albums since then: 2014's Go and 2016's Ride.

When Chuck Berry died last week, the music-loving world rose to acknowledge his status as, in Bob Dylan's words, the Shakespeare of rock and roll. The man was 90; people were ready. Jon Pareles, chief pop critic of The New York Times, and David Remnick, editor at The New Yorker, both immediately published lengthy obituaries. Musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Questlove to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones – Berry's famous protégé – rushed to pay tribute.

Marty Stuart is a walking, talking, singing, guitar-slinging repository of American popular music. The multiple-Grammy winner has had a long and storied career rooted in country music, but spanning everything from honky-tonk to "hillbilly rock" and from Southern gospel and blues to Native American balladry.

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.

Almost a month ago, President Trump's immigration ban pushed words with long histories back into the foreground of the public conversation; one was "refugee." Since then, much analysis and inflated rhetoric has attached itself to that word, but not that many Americans have had (or have taken) the chance to interact directly with those to whom it applies. Music has long provided one way for outsiders to connect with refugees' hopes and fears. A recent encounter in Nashville reminded me of the revelations it bears.

Little Bandit is a group devoted to the songs of Alex Caress, who's making classic country music with a sassy and subtly political twist. Caress first impressed Nashville audiences as part of the dream-pop band Ponychase, which was led by his sister, Jordan. More recently, he's played keyboards in breakout punk-blues star Adia Victoria's band.

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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