NPR Reads – Nick Cave

Once a week, different employees at NPR write about something they read recently that intrigued them. We call it #NPRreads. I wrote one about Nick Cave’s new album, and a solid track review in Pitchfork:

In my mind, all great records have a right place on the calendar. Not when they’re released necessarily, but when the world’s climate conforms to them.

Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle is a winter record, Real Estate’s Days is a spring record, and Who Is Mike Jones is best enjoyed in the dog days of summer. This is inarguable.

Skeleton Tree, the grief-stricken new album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, is an autumn masterpiece.

Sam Sodomsky captured the album’s “stirring core” track, called “I Need You,” in a review for Pitchfork this week:

“Cave drifts between half-recalled memories, placing them into a more fragmented mindset than his trademark, character-filled storytelling. He sees a red dress falling, a black car waiting. He’s standing in the doorway; he’s in line at the supermarket. The images never coalesce into a clear narrative, but they amount to something even greater: a lifetime flashing before your eyes, so sad and real that it could be your own.”

Skeleton Tree is a cool evening’s walk through a town where you’re surrounded by people, and known by no one. It’s a record tailor-made for you to watch the leaves fall.


Brian Fallon Loves Bruce Springsteen, Just Please Don’t Leave It At That


Brian Fallon, photographed by Danny Clinch. (Courtesy of Big Hassle Media)

With his band The Gaslight Anthem, Brian Fallon was on the precipice of rock stardom in the late 2000s. The band played “The Late Show with David Letterman” multiple times, and topped the Billboard charts.

While critics loved the band’s first few albums, they also saw a similarity between Fallon’s gravelly tone and New Jersey storytelling and the state’s native son, Bruce Springsteen.

Now, with his first solo record, Fallon says he doesn’t want his career to be lost in a Springsteen comparison.

My NPR Music and Here & Now profile of Fallon originally aired nationally on Sept. 6. You can listen to it here, and check out a curated Brian Fallon playlist I made.

Portrait of a Punk Who Never Grew Up


Beach Slang, photographed by Craig Scheihing

It’s been a remarkable 12 months for James Alex, a year full of contradictions and firsts. The lead singer and songwriter for the band Beach Slang, Alex and his wife Rachel had their first child, Oliver, to start 2015. Then in October, the band released its debut album, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, which has meant nonstop touring.

Alex’s dad wasn’t a part of his life growing up, a theme that crops up again and again in his songs. He now has to negotiate being away from Oliver, for weeks at a time, in order to make a life for the little boy.

“I’m always that kid always out of place,” Alex sings on “Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas.” “I try to get found / I’ve never known how.”

I went to Philadelphia with NPR Music video guru Colin Marshall to document a day in Alex’s life. Part dad, part rock star. You can watch Colin’s video, and listen to my radio story here.

With Second Album, Chvrches’ Ascent Continues

Chvrches started out humble enough. A few singles hitting the Internet, some online buzz and a debut album recorded in a basement.

Less than four years later, however, and the band is massive – headlining summer festival stops the past two years across the country, while playing more than 350 shows.

On September 25, the band released “Every Open Eye,” a follow-up to their critically-acclaimed 2013 debut, “The Bones of What You Believe.”

You can listen to my story about their ascent to the top of the indie-pop world here. It aired aired nationally on Here & Now on Oct. 5.

To honor veterans, Mall is the stage for a flag-waving night of patriotism, music

This story was my first A1 byline in The Washington Post. I also live-Tweeted the event.


Here’s the story:

By: Paul Schwartzman and Miles Parks

Beneath a vast night sky and billowing red clouds, award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson delivered a moment of harmonic splendor Tuesday night as she rang up the start of the national anthem, her soaring voice inspiring the first of many thunderous roars of applause along the Mall.

With the U.S. Capitol as its glowing, iconic backdrop, the Concert for Valorbegan as a somber and stirring tribute to generations of American veterans who sacrificed their lives and well-being through the years.

But the three-hour concert also was a rollicking showcase for a full panoply of American sound — from Rihanna’s passionate R&B to Metallica’s raging heavy metal; from Eminem’s sneering rap to Bruce Springsteen’s soothing acoustic strains. There was alt-rock from the Black Keys and country from Carrie Underwood.

“How you feel out there? The whole world is watching!” actor Jamie Foxx said as the show started at 7 p.m., leading the crowd in chants of “USA! USA!”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Washington Post.

Students jive to Charlie Parker and Count Basie during Montgomery blues program

Montgomery County fifth-graders enjoy a morning of jazz music in the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Montgomery County fifth-graders enjoy a morning of jazz music in the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The band’s beats and chords squished together like putty and dangled apart across subtle silence, and 1,600 pairs of little eyeballs widened as trombone tones danced to a Caribbean groove. Children jived and twisted in their seats as notes barreled and swayed around them.

It was 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, a time when these children would normally be doing long division or working on comma placement. But this rainy, chilly October morning was different: It was a perfect day for the blues.

Droves of 10-year-olds came to the Strathmore arts center from all over Montgomery County as part of a decade-old partnership with the county’s school system that exposes children to live music at the organization’s massive music hall in North Bethesda.

The live blues program fits directly into Montgomery’s music curriculum, which fifth-graders are working on, said Katherine Murphy, the county’s content specialist for K-12 general and choral music. It aims to expose students to the music and its cultural importance.

“They are learning chord changes and the 12-bar blues form,” Murphy said. “They’re also learning about nontraditionally classical instruments like the drums and the electric guitar.”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page B1 of The Washington Post.

Jessie’s Lounge Could Redefine Polk Music Scene

Jessie Skubna, left, and Robbie Loftus, co-owners of Jessie's Lounge, are hoping to gain approval to develop a lot next to their business for a live-music venue. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

Jessie Skubna, left, and Robbie Loftus, co-owners of Jessie’s Lounge, are hoping to gain approval to develop a lot next to their business for a live-music venue. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | It’s enough to make Polk music-lovers salivate.

You can almost see it now. A breezy autumn night, the kind that defines Florida in late October.

Craft beer is flowing from taps inside the lounge, bass strings buzz and hum, and some 500 boys and girls trade dance moves and giggles in the grass.

The vignette might seem more California than Winter Haven, but the recent proposal of a large outdoor concert venue could redefine the Polk County live music scene.


It’s still months away from becoming a reality but the process has begun. Jessie Skubna, owner of Jessie’s Lounge at 118 Third St. SW, requested approval from the city to expand the 3,900-square-foot bar to include outdoor seating in the back of the building and to include a stage for live music on the vacant lot next to the bar to the south.

Skubna and her longtime boyfriend and co-owner, Robbie Loftus, said the proposed outside venue would be able to hold up to 500 people. The fire department does not set occupancy maximums on outside venues.

Skubna and Loftus do not own the vacant lot, and would lease the property for now.

The expanded patio in the back of the bar would hold 40 seats.

The city responded March 26 with a document that was to go before the Planning Commission for approval April 1. The document said that city staff is in favor of allowing the expansion but only if the bar and its owners follow certain conditions.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.