Jewly Hight

It was all too easy to paint the recent era of carousing country jams with a broad, dismissive brush. Reworking familiar tropes has always been central to country songwriting, so it wasn't merely the presence of repetition that rankled.

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.


"As of this writing, I am sixty-one years old in chronology," the novelist Madeleine L'Engle once mused. "But I am not an isolated, chronological numerical statistic. I am sixty-one, and I am also four, and twelve, and fifteen, and twenty-three, and thirty-one, and forty-five, and... and... and..."

The profoundly personal side of tragedy often gets lost when stories of horrendous events become a sort of public property, taken up by reporters, bloggers, tweeters and talk-show hosts, even claimed as fodder for sensationalized television documentaries. Flesh-and-blood people whose ordeals are broadcast far and wide can easily get reduced to one-dimensional characters and their suffering abstracted.

All manner of differences can seem like unbridgeable chasms in a social and political climate like this one, but East Texas singer-songwriter Sunny Sweeney happens to be quite practiced at bridging divides.

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.

This was the year that all discussion of Guy Clark, standard-bearer of narrative-unfurling Texas songwriting, slipped from present tense into past. After his death in May came innumerable published remembrances, a sold-out tribute show at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium featuring the cream of the writerly Americana crop and a meticulously researched biography, Without Getting Killed Or Caught: The Life And Music Of Guy Clark, all of it celebrating the singular sturdiness of his canon.

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

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards, show producers worked a truly impressive number of performers into the Nov. 2 telecast, utilizing everything from moving medleys to photo montages and mentions of legends seated in the audience.

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

Few in the roots scene had heard of Yola Carter before she made her first appearance at Nashville's Americana Fest in September, which might've suggested that she was some sort of musical rookie. In fact, the 33-year-old black, British singer-songwriter is a seasoned studio and stage pro.

Five years ago, Drake captured the millennial mood with a track abounding in bulletproof swagger and boasts of unconstrained indulgence. "You only live once," he luxuriated. "That's the motto."

Ponder for a moment the intensity of devotion that Gillian Welch has commanded among a certain highbrow listenership for the better part of two decades. She and her musical partner Dave Rawlings — who perform together under her name — have become archetypes of entrancingly austere, two-voiced artistry.

Pages