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Stephen Thompson

The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle spent the 1990s recording his songs — just a voice, an acoustic guitar and bracingly articulate lyrics about catastrophe and survival — on low-fidelity equipment like boom boxes. It got to the point where the tape hiss felt like another instrument, but in the last decade, the Mountain Goats' music has become ever more polished.

Jason Isbell was once one of Drive-By Truckers' great songwriting weapons — he wrote the jaw-dropping "Outfit," among others — until his career spiraled into substance abuse and he left the band. As it so often does, sobriety has served Isbell well: The Alabama singer-songwriter just released the powerful and profound Southeastern, which candidly addresses his hard fall and hopeful rise.

The Lumineers may have on the pop scene out of nowhere — scoring a worldwide hit with the band's self-titled 2012 debut album and its multimillion-selling single "Ho Hey" — but the Denver group had tooled around in obscurity for quite a few years before its breakthrough. These days, though, it's one of the biggest folk-rock outfits in the business, joining a suspenders-clad Mount Rushmore with the likes of Mumford & Sons.

Nashville-bred singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter is your classic folk-rock rambler: He's traveled the world to find inspiration and written songs to reflect his observations along the way.

The Newport Folk Festival understands the value of a good palate-cleanser — not to mention the way folk and gospel's roots intertwine — so this year's lineup taps the rich vein of talent at Boston's Berklee College of Music to bring fans the Berklee Gospel & Roots Choir.

Hear the group perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Sunday, July 28 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Strange Fruit"
  • "Work Song / It Is Well With My Soul"
  • "I'll Never Turn Back To More"

Houndmouth may record for taste-making U.K. label Rough Trade, but everything else about the telegenic folk-rock group bleeds Americana: All four members of the Indiana band share lead vocals throughout their warm, rambling songs. Houndmouth's full-length debut, From the Hills Below the City, just came out.

Hear Houndmouth perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Saturday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Set List

  • "Penitentiary"
  • "On The Road"
  • "Houston Train"

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

This session, from Sept. 2, 2011, is part of our Vintage Cafe series, in which we revisit some of our best studio performances.

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

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