Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing
February's edition of Heavy Rotation, chosen by NPR member stations, features music from Amythyst Kiah, Sofia Valdes, The Weather Station and more.
All of this month's picks are available to stream on the Heavy Rotation Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page. As always, you can discover fantastic music programming happening across the country in real time by clicking the links to each station's website.
Aaron Lee Tasjan, "Feminine Walk"
Let us sashay to "take a walk on the wild side" along with Aaron Lee Tasjan. His latest album, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, is his most true-to-himself offering so far. The song "Feminine Walk" spins an enigmatic sonic web that hints at Bowie and the Beatles, as he weaves in self-awareness and pride. Tasjan is here to represent, in both lyricism and musical vision, delivered with the whimsy of a sweet and salty spun confection. —Jessie Scott,
Amythyst Kiah, "Black Myself"
Amythyst Kiah began her career playing old-time festivals throughout the South, so it may surprise some of her folk audience to hear the extent to which she rocks out on this new version of "Black Myself" — a song she originally recorded with folk supergroup Our Native Daughters. But her seemingly effortless balance of Black struggle and self-empowerment deserved every distorted guitar riff she gave it here. Kiah's songwriting gift is bigger than any monolithic category, as is the Black experience about which she's singing. And this song seems to be somewhat of a breakthrough for an artist on the rise. —Kim Ruehl,
Black Thought (feat. C.S. Armstrong & Angela Hunte), "Welcome To America"
Anthems are in short supply these days. "Welcome To America" attempts admirably to fill that breach. Here's a hard-swinging history lesson to accompany a film about a slain Black Panthers leader and delivered by one of rap's lyrical firebrands. Solo or not, Black Thought forgoes hip-hop orthodoxy. Propulsive drumming, descending basslines and a stunt-driver flow help, but it's his logic that incites the masses. Years of Tonight Show banter haven't dulled the cerebral fury powering his rhymes. —David Hyland,
The Budos Band, "Gun Metal Grey"
New York's The Budos Band have been jamming out for more than 15 years. Their sound can be described as 1970s Afro-funk meets psychedelic rock. This powerful combination is aptly demonstrated on their latest single, "Gun Metal Grey." The song features strong horns and a heavy rhythm section. It commands your attention, and I'm betting you'll want to hear it more than once. —Benji McPhail,
Jon Batiste, "I Need You"
Grown from the musical traditions of New Orleans, Jon Batiste performs what he calls "social music" — and appears to get as much joy in creating it as sharing it. That spirit is on regular display in his gig as bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and it bursts out with "I Need You" (from We Are, out March 19). "In this world with a lot of problems," this song is a bouncing and swinging amalgam of sounds that reminds us to celebrate love and authenticity, and to keep up hope that experiencing music together in person is not so far away. —Sarah Wardrop,
Jupiter & Okwess (feat. Ana Tijoux), "You Sold Me a Dream"
When two musical activists from two different parts of the globe meetup to make some music, you know it's worth tuning in. The Congolese band Jupiter & Okwess, whose power lies in its ferocious beats, have teamed up with Chilean rapper and musician Ana Tijoux. Together, they've created a high-powered anthem that demands dancing. They meld their styles perfectly, making their duet sound like it was made of steel. I wouldn't be surprised if we get sequels to this combination. —Ian Stewart,
Parker Millsap, "The Real Thing"
The pandemic has kept musicians sequestered in their homes, unable to tour and connect to audiences. Like the rest of us, that extends to personal relationships that have been confined to screen time, phone calls, and socially distanced meetings. This isolation has created time for songwriting and often the subject is isolation; call it the pandemic playlist. Parker Millsap's contribution to the milieu is "The Real Thing," a richly layered folk ballad that laments his inability to make physical contact with the object of his desire. You can hear the yearning in his voice as he sings, "And I can't stand the poor connection / Can't hold your hand through the screen / I don't want your reflection / I just want the real thing." If you're desperate for contact, you'll find it easy to connect to "The Real Thing." —Rosemary Welsch,
Rock and roll is very much alive and well in the home of brothers Dee, Isaiah and Solomon Radke — members of Kansas City-based power trio Radkey. A certified banger, "Seize" is the lead single from their fourth full-length album, Green Room. With fortifying riffs and canorous vocals that channel the likes of The Damned, Ramones and Misfits, Radkey contemplates the hazards of obsessive fandom with fomenting veracity. And in that same punk tradition, they share a rabid grassroots fanbase that's undoubtedly along for the ride — the brothers raised more than $10,000 within 48 hours to produce a physical LP for the new album. —Michelle Bacon,
Sofía Valdés, "Handful of Water"
There's a tenderness and a beauty to the music of Sofía Valdés. On her debut EP, Ventura, the Panamanian singer-songwriter marries personal storytelling with a breezy musical backdrop and instinctual pop sensibilities. It's impossible not to be captivated with songs like "Handful of Water." Her voice is alluring; her groove is hypnotic. And when the final note drops, all you want to do is hear it again. That's the sign of a good song, and something truly irresistible. —Mike Vasilikos,
The Weather Station, "Parking Lot"
As The Weather Station, Tamara Lindeman emphasizes and connects the subtle importance of the little things we experience amid the loud hum of daily life. Her intimate observation of the bird in "Parking Lot" radiates a sense of delicate, relatable peace — I think it is safe to say many of us have found ourselves watching neighborhood birds more frequently over the last year. It serves as a soft reminder that sometimes the smallest, most inconsequential moments trigger us to unpack the layers we've carefully stowed away. On the day of the single's release, Lindeman introduced it on Twitter as "A love song for a bird, or maybe for the world," which is fitting as her album Ignorance is seeded in the personal grief and struggle of global climate change. "But everywhere we go there is an outside / Over all of these ceilings hangs a sky," she sings. This song, and its parent album, delivers tinges of airy hope coupled with bouts of anxiety, humbly capturing a space familiar to many. —Vasilia Scouras,
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