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Heavy Rotation: 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing

Download Valerie June's "Workin' Woman Blues" in this month's edition of <em>Heavy Rotation</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Download Valerie June's "Workin' Woman Blues" in this month's edition of Heavy Rotation.

Another month, another great mix of new music chosen by public radio's top DJs. Download an explosive new track from Neko Case, discover the Shabazz Palaces-approved Seattle rapper Porter Ray and get to know Valerie June, one of public radio's frontrunners for Best New Artist of 2013. Grab all 10 of our picks below, as chosen by the following contributors:

  • Chris Campbell, DJ at WDET's ALPHA channel in Detroit
  • Lars Gotrich, producer and host of Viking's Choice at NPR Music
  • Anne Litt, DJ at KCRW in Los Angeles
  • Larry Mizell Jr., DJ at KEXP in Seattle
  • Dave P., host of Making Time RADio at WXPN in Philadelphia
  • Jewel Parker, host of Strictly Hip-Hop on WEAA in Baltimore
  • Jeremy Petersen, DJ at opbmusic in Portland
  • Fiona Ritchie, host of NPR's Thistle & Shamrock
  • Kim Ruehl, writer for FolkAlley.com
  • Gwen Thompkins, host of Music Inside Out at WWNO in New Orleans

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Heavy Rotation: July 2013

Neko Case, 'Man'

From 'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You'

In a way, we were predisposed to love Neko Case's new song, "Man." Her upcoming The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You was recorded, in part, in Portland with producer Tucker Martine, and the song features M. Ward's guitar work. She's also headlining our city's Music Fest NW in September. Local biases aside, we're just huge fans of the singer, who comes out swinging in "Man" with a driving beat and a declaration — "I'm a man / That's what you raised me to be" — that's especially interesting after the "Man man man man man man-eater" refrain of her last record's "People Got a Lotta Nerve." Lyrically provocative — wait for that radio-unfriendly final verse — it's catchy enough to hook even the manliest among us. --Jeremy Petersen, opbmusic Portland

Download "Man" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet, 'Ballet Class'

From 'In a World of Mallets'

There's an endearing sweetness to "Ballet Class," by the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet. The song appears on the album In a World of Mallets, and its ethereal quality conjures bunheaded ballerinas crossing a parquet floor. But midway through, the quartet really swings. I asked Marsalis what makes "Ballet Class" so damned pleasing and he replied, "The melody is based on a C major scale, the hardest to play on vibes, and the rhythm comes from the bolero used in classical music. As for when we solo, we can bring in whatever kind of music we want — samba, rock, hip-hop, blues, flamenco, anything — and it will work." Marsalis wrote the album's liner notes and dedicates "Ballet Class" to "all genres of music." Now, that's on pointe. --Gwen Thompkins, WWNO's Music Inside Out

Download "Ballet Class" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Valerie June, 'Workin' Woman Blues'

From 'Pushin' Against a Stone'

When I heard "Workin' Woman Blues," I knew Valerie June was completely different, and that's rare these days. The first time I played her music on air, the positive response from listeners was overwhelming — I haven't had that much response to an artist or song in a long time. June's sound is influenced by R&B, Appalachia, gospel and blues and anchored by excellent songwriting. A Tennessee native, she makes music that oozes the Mississippi River as much as it does Jeff Buckley and Stax records. June has help from a lot of special friends on the forthcoming Pushin' Against a Stone: Kevin Augunas and Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys produced tracks, while Booker T. Jones and Richard Swift make appearances. But my favorite song, "Workin' Woman Blues," was produced by bassist Peter Sabak. I see little reason for the blues in Valerie June's future, as she's already my leading contender for Best New Artist of the year. --Anne Litt, KCRW Los Angeles

Download "Workin' Woman Blues" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

ADULTROCK, 'In The Shade'

From 'In The Shade (Single)'

WDET (101.9 FM, an NPR affiliate in Detroit), in collaboration with Ghostly International, Studio Feed and Paxahau, recently launched ALPHA channel, a 24/7 interactive music streaming service that plays electronic and progressive soul music. The channel has been seen as a game-changer in Detroit, due to its eclectic playlist and widescreen sensibilities, perfectly exemplified by songs such as "In the Shade" by Irish DJ Gavin Elstead — otherwise known as ADULTROCK. "In the Shade" features chillwave and downtempo-style sounds as it hearkens back to some of the lush, funky and orchestral influences of 1980s producers like Trevor Horn, but with a laid-back, contemporary spin. The track is a groovy, dreamy, soulful, head-notic experience that's cinematic in nature, but is still performed with finger-popping elan. This joint deservedly gets spun frequently on both the Progressive Underground and ALPHA channel. --Chris Campbell, WDET's ALPHA Channel

Download "In The Shade" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Jason Isbell, 'Live Oak'

From 'Southeastern'

Jason Isbell was established as a force when his old band, Drive-By Truckers, made a name for itself years ago. Unfortunately, his rise accompanied a descent into addiction. He battled it for years before carefully turning over a new leaf — a struggle and pursuit he chronicles beautifully on his new solo album, Southeastern. There, Isbell sheds a few layers of clothing and skin in order to bare an earnest, sober soul. Part repentance, part damn good songwriting, the disc doesn't lack high points. But "Live Oak" is where the complexity of surmounting addiction comes to a head. The opening lines alone are enough to slay: "There's a man who walks beside me and he's who I used to be / I wonder if she sees him and confuses him with me." --Kim Ruehl, Folk Alley

Download "Live Oak" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Porter Ray, '5950's'

From 'BLK GLD'

A 25-year-old rapper, Porter Ray Sullivan was once described to me by Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler as "the Golden Child." A son of Seattle's Central District, Porter Ray namechecks Butler and revered Seattle MC Infinite as influences. Appropriately, "5950's" is 206 from head to toe; named for a model of New Era baseball cap, it's described as sporting Mariner teal throughout Porter's stunning debut, BLK GLD. Here, Porter reels off the minutiae of murder, betrayal and narcotic sales with a poetic eye that recalls vintage Nas, tempered with a numb, gray-sky detachment (and aided by a sterling verse from Nate Jack) all over shimmering piano keys, a subdued drum shuffle and quiet-storm rain effects. In this city — built on, around, and seemingly under water — it's even easier than you'd think to get washed, depending on where you're standing. --Larry Mizell Jr., KEXPSeattle

Download "5950's" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Drug Church, 'Reading YouTube Comments'

From 'Drug Church'

While I'm not so sure I'd want to live in the house that Quicksand built (you know, because it's made of... never mind), at least the post-hardcore bands that band inspires would know their way around a melody. Count the fellow New Yorkers in Drug Church among its disciples; the band features the outspoken Self Defense Family/End of a Year frontman Patrick Kindlon in a lighter but no less intense role. "Reading YouTube Comments" comes from the band's Fast and the Furious actor-referencing debut, Paul Walker, and sounds like a game of chicken with shopping carts. Feedback punctuates a classic punk start-stop rhythm before the whirlwind chorus wherein Kindlon yells, "DECLINE! DECLINE!" Start the pit; I'm getting in. --Lars Gotrich, NPR Music

Download "Reading YouTube Comments" (Right-Click and 'Save As')

Locksmith, 'Stand It'

From 'The Green Box'

Locksmith's "Stand It" drops jewels from start to finish. Over a beat by producer 9th Wonder, the rapper proves his ability to go toe-to-toe with hip-hop's heavy hitters. The song is mellow and straight to the point; it reminds me of the classic New York City hip-hop vibe from the 1990s. I recommend playing it at loud volumes in the car, on repeat. --Jewel Parker, WEAABaltimore

Download "Stand It" (Right Click and 'Save As')

Gesaffelstein, 'Pursuit'

From 'Pursuit (Single)'

I've been spinning Gesaffelstein tracks on the Making Time RADio show since he released his first EP on Turbo Recordings in 2010. Gesaffelstein is one of my most-played artists; all of his tracks are massive, and when I say "massive," I mean they are huge in sound. But the French producer has just put out his biggest track yet, "Pursuit." It's so big that's it difficult to figure out what to play after it in a club, because nothing can hold up to its sonic density. With "Pursuit," Gesaffelstein creates a genre of electronic music that sounds as much like rock as it does dance. I'm going to spin this one all summer long. --Dave P., Making Time RADio on WXPN

This download is no longer available.

The Chair, 'Knees Of Fire'

From 'The Road To Hammer Junkie'

I like my rootsy music to feature players with sharp skills, singers with a bit of an edge and arrangements that surprise. When it's irresistible, that's usually because there's also some sort of subcutaneous anarchy. This is what threatens to erupt on The Chair's second album, The Road to Hammer Junkie. The octet from Orkney, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland, taps the deep well of traditional fiddle music for which the islands are famous, then drives it stomping into the 21st century. Five years in the making on this outing, the sound is as rugged as an Orcadian coastline, with palpable joy bubbling over in even the darker tracks. Anyone who can inject this much heart, soul and spontaneity into a studio album must be unstoppable live. No wonder the 'Chair men' are a hit on the festival circuit. As for "Knees of Fire," just try to sit still. --Fiona Ritchie, Thistle & Shamrock

Download "Knees Of Fire" (Right-Click and 'Save As')