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2015 In Music: Playlist Refreshers


A bountiful year in music is coming to a close, so we have invited NPR's musical mastermind Stephen Thompson into the studio to point us toward some favorites. Welcome, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Hi, it's nice to be here, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you're going to freshen up my playlist, right?

THOMPSON: (Laughter) All right, well, we were talking off-mic, you and me, about the music that you are listening to as a budding rock 'n' roller. And we were talking about Bill Haley and Buddy Holly, and it seems like we've got little bit of catching up to do.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) I would yes.

THOMPSON: A few - a few years of - a few years of past in there. But you were...

WERTHEIMER: I listen to a lot of news, you know?

THOMPSON: Sure, sure, and you know what? I would never want to discourage anyone from listening to the news, heaven forfend. But I thought, you know, when I'm recommending music to people I like to recommend stuff that I think they'll like. So, you know, there are a lot of the biggest records of the year. There's great music in hip-hop and jazz and, you know, and folk music. But we're going to stick I think a little bit more to music that I hope you, Linda Wertheimer, like.


THOMPSON: So I'm going to start with something that, you know, we were talking about the music that you were listening to in your high school dances. And I feel like Leon Bridges - well, I swear no pun intended - bridges the gap from what we were talking about that you listened to in high school and what's out there now. He's a young soul singer who is very much trying to re-create the music of the past in fresh ways. Let's hear a little bit of "Coming Home."


LEON BRIDGES: (Singing) The world leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, girl. You're the only one that I want, I want to be around, I want to be around you girl.

WERTHEIMER: Good choice.

THOMPSON: All right, excellent.

WERTHEIMER: I like that.

THOMPSON: Now, we've outfitted you with a buzzer...

WERTHEIMER: All right.

THOMPSON: ...So that if I recommend something that you hate you can pound on it and just reject me right to my face.


THOMPSON: So the next thing I brought taps into a little bit of vintage soul, but brings out more of a rock 'n' roll side and a little bit more of even, like, an experimental side. It's a band called Alabama Shakes that had a very, very, very big year. Alabama Shakes is nominated for album of the year at the Grammys. Brittany Howard the singer is, I think, going to be a huge star. Let's hear the song "Don't Wanna Fight" from the album "Sound & Color."


ALABAMA SHAKES: (Singing) My lines, your lines, don't cross them lines, what you like, what I like, why can't we both be right?


THOMPSON: Wow, I got buzzed so soon.



WERTHEIMER: Well, it's all that sampling stuff. It's not my thing.

THOMPSON: There's nothing wrong with not liking what you don't like. I mean, the Leon Bridges that we played is a little more straight traditionalist. I like the way this plays around with classic sounds, but...

WERTHEIMER: OK, so what's next?

THOMPSON: All right. Well, a little bit of a throwback but to something a little bit more recent. The singer is Elle King. This song "X's & Oh's" was all over the radio all year. It seemed to kind of gain momentum. And one of the reasons I brought it is, you know, Adele put out a new record this year that everyone talked about. And it was full of almost nothing but ballads, and this song to me felt like the Adele anthem that Adele didn't release in 2015.


ELLE KING: (Singing) One, two, three, they gonna run back to me 'cause I'm the best baby that they never gotta keep. One, two, three, they gonna run back to me. They always want to come but they never wanna leave. X's and oh's they haunt me.

WERTHEIMER: OK, I'm back on board.

THOMPSON: All right, excellent.


WERTHEIMER: I like that and I, you know, it sort of echoes my old favorite Bill Haley one to three o'clock.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Nice and, well, it really booms out of the speakers. It's kind of salty and overblown in a way that I really - like, every time it came on on the radio I turned it up instead of going back to the news.

WERTHEIMER: So let's keep going.

THOMPSON: All right. So the last thing I brought to me one of the great rock bands of the last 25 years. It's Sleater-Kinney. They took, like, a really long hiatus and when they came back they just came back with this record that just sounds like nothing but a band doing high kicks and jumping off the speakers. You can just imagine how this sounds, you know, on a stage, you know, with 2,000 people around you. The album is called "No Cities To Love" and this song is called "Surface Envy."


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) We win, we lose, only together do we break the rules. We win, we lose, only together do we make the rules. I'm breaking the surface...


WERTHEIMER: Oh, this is very good. I like this. Thank you very much, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Stephen Thompson.


SLEATER-KINNEY: (Singing) I can't hold the weight, the guilt holds me down, won't me be myself. Suck it all in, suck it all up... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.