Ann Powers

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.

Growing up outside Philadelphia, Devon Gilfillian learned about the working musician's life from his father, a singer and percussionist in a beloved local party band. He found his own path as a singer-songwriter and moved to Nashville just a few years ago, in hopes of finding a community appreciative of his blend of social consciousness, rootsy melodies and soulful grooves. Like so many before him, Gilfillian found those peers while waiting tables in a popular local venue, where he also absorbed the musical lessons of the stars who stopped by on tour.

Songs That Say 'Me Too'

Oct 17, 2017

Content advisory: The videos and language below contain strong language and may be offensive to some.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Midway through last night's set at the venerable Ryman Auditorium, Kesha Sebert stood at center stage in a Stetson and a bespangled Gunne Sax-style minidress, armed with a Winchester-style rifle affixed to what looked like an insecticide pump. Her fans, who'd been screaming nonstop since pop star had walked out, to the strains of her own Aretha Franklin tribute "Woman," knew what that canister should contain.

Larissa Maestro travels far and wide within the Nashville music scene. She's a classically trained cellist and musical theater nerd who has recorded sessions with country and Americana stars ranging from The Band Perry to Margo Price to Deer Tick to Wanda Jackson.

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.


"I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city," the sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy has said of his ephemeral works – giant snowballs that slowly melt on the streets of London; leaves formed into a spiral pattern, undone one by one by a river current. Goldsworthy is a naturalist whose work reminds us that life is a cycle of growth and decay.

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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