Tom Moon

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.

He is the author of the New York Times bestseller 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die (Workman Publishing), and a contributor to other books including The Final Four of Everything.

A saxophonist whose professional credits include stints on cruise ships and several tours with the Maynard Ferguson orchestra, Moon served as music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1988 until 2004. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Blender, Spin, Vibe, Harp and other publications, and has won several awards, including two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Music Journalism awards. He has contributed to NPR's All Things Considered since 1996.

Brittany Howard sure can raise the roof. The singer possesses a furious streak, with startling rawness in her delivery. When I first caught Alabama Shakes live, the focus was all on her. The thing was, the band behind her sounded oddly flat: The musicians had clearly done their homework on Memphis soul, but they didn't take the music anyplace interesting. What a difference a couple years on the road can make.

Really, how much hoodoo can there be out in the desert?

Working as a music journalist means that some days you get to tell people, in breathless prose, about an incredible new record you've discovered. On other days, you have to tell people that an artist you've followed and respected for years is no longer living. That part is never any fun. Listening to the hushed, elegantly spare Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith, I found myself transported back to the period right after Smith died, of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds, in 2003.

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The glissando (gliss for short) is a musical term describing the sound of an instrument as it glides from one pitch to another. A favorite trick of jazz hornmen and slide guitarists, the gliss can be a woozy, gleeful sound or a mournful one. When executed by a virtuoso violinist, the notes between the start and the finish of the gliss blur together into a gorgeous, ribbonlike swoop of sound.

He asks a lot of questions, this José González.

He opened his last album, 2013's band project Junip, with a thought experiment Nietzsche could love: "What would you do if it all came back to you?" The song, "Line Of Fire," dwells in a mood of idle 3 a.m. musing; González tosses out existential/metaphysical conundrums like he's feeding bread to ducks — casually, without worrying much about concrete answers.

Dylan The Crooner

Feb 3, 2015

Bard. Voice of a generation. Bob Dylan has been called many things over the years. With his new album, Shadows in the Night, the 73-year-old aims for another title: crooner.

Countless bands perform a variation on the medium-uptempo edge-of-rage eruption perfected by the likes of the Pixies and Green Day. It's become so ubiquitous, you almost don't have to listen: It's possible to get a headline-news sense of the song without fully apprehending the words. The spike in the guitar attack and the rawness of the vocal help telegraph the outline of a narrative: Here we are in the aftermath of a relationship in turmoil. Trust is broken. Someone's been wronged. Wounds are fresh.

"Night Faces," the opening track from Jessica Pratt's extraordinary 2012 debut, showcased a singular ability to transform a worn-out cliche into something stirring. Just through the choices she made as a singer.

You can tell a lot about a songwriter by what occurs in the space between verses. Many writers — hacks and gifted souls alike — will treat an instrumental expanse as a kind of please-stand-by strumming wallpaper, a palate cleanser for the ear. In this strategy, derived from folk music, the focus remains forever on the narrative; the "action" in a song directly depends on the voice.

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