Stephen Thompson

When Leon Russell died last November, the 74-year-old star was recuperating from heart surgery and itching to get back out on the road. So it's no surprise that Russell — whose music fused soul, rock, gospel and country — left behind an impressive batch of songs that hadn't yet seen release. On Friday, 10 months after his death, On a Distant Shore continues a recorded legacy that hasn't dimmed.

Awards shows often mirror current events, from politically pointed acceptance speeches to winners whose subject matter feels especially relevant in the moment. The 69th Emmy Awards, held Sunday night, didn't skimp on either, as The Handmaid's Tale, Saturday Night Live and Veep posted strong — even dominant — showings over the course of the night.

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 haven't heard "Namesake," one of the many wildly joyous highlights of Tunde Olaniran's 2015 debut Transgressor, take a few minutes to listen before proceeding with... well, anything in your life. A boundlessly inventive ode to individuality, it sounds, appropriately enough, like nothing else.

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.

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.

Recording under the name Silver Torches, Seattle singer-songwriter Erik Walters specializes in smart and melancholy Americana — the sort of stuff that ought to be catnip to fans of, say, Ryan Adams or late-period Paul Westerberg.

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.

Like many singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell writes music that mirrors developments in his own life. In recent years, that's thankfully included the hard-won contentment he's experienced on his path to 40: sobriety, marriage and on from there.

MTV is the TV network most widely associated with short attention spans. So it makes sense that its Video Music Awards would function as a jarring and disjointed jumble of moments — a howl of protest followed immediately by a singer's tears of joy, or a heartfelt speech by a grieving mother giving way to a performance of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and DNCE. In such a barrage, it's unfair to expect any one performance, speech or spectacle to rise above the others, especially as the telecast stretched past three hours.

In the 15-plus years since Sam Beam released his debut album as Iron & Wine, the singer-songwriter has added layer upon layer to his soft-spoken sound.

Let's get one issue out of the way up front: MTV is never again going to build its programming around music videos. For that, viewers have YouTube — as well as MTV's lower-stakes spinoff channels — and besides, if you're old enough to remember when MTV's programming revolved around videos, then you're almost certainly too old for MTV to care what you think.

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