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NPR Music Guru Bob Boilen on the 6 Artists You Should Know

Boilen retired in 2023 but continues to spread his love of music


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Meg Vogel/NPR

Bob Boilen lived something of a charmed life in his 35 years at National Public Radio. After starting in news production, he went on to develop and cohost All Songs Considered, one of the most popular music podcasts in the U.S., and help launch the uber-popular Tiny Desk Concerts series, where musicians performed at his workspace.

“I’m a college dropout,” says Boilen, 70. “I never thought I’d be able to do stuff like that, and so that was pretty remarkable.”

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Boilen retired in October 2023, although he continues to spread his love of music through a weekly radio show called My Tiny Morning Show for TakomaRadio.org. He’s also a nature and concert photographer and has performed in three bands, along with a solo career as an ambient musician (check him out on bandcamp.com). “I don’t know what retirement is,” Boilen says. “It’s just that I don’t have to go to work every day. And I don’t get paid.”

Boilen continues to seek out new music, so we asked him to recommend six artists. Here are his picks:

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CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

1. boygenius

Boygenius is a modern rock trio consisting of three singers with their own solo careers: Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. “In the way that Crosby, Stills & Nash were artists who all had their own thing going, these three artists are super popular these days in the world of independent rock music. This is not ’70s music, but it’s music that may speak to you.”

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Stefan M. Prager/Redferns

2. Ólafur Arnalds

He’s an Icelandic composer and pianist. Boilen recommends Some Kind of Peace, released in 2020. “I am a big lover of quiet music. He worked with an engineer to design this software that when he plays on a keyboard, it reacts to what he’s playing in real time, and it’s stunning stuff. Just beautiful, beautiful music.”

spinner image german musician composer and producer nils frahm on stage in amsterdam
Paul Bergen/Redferns

3. Nils Frahm

Nils Frahm is a German composer and pianist whose 2015 album, Solo, is a Boilen favorite. “Very melodic, but what’s interesting is that he’s very much into all of the sounds that a piano makes, so what he does is he close-mikes the inside of the piano so you hear the squeaks and the hammers and the keys, the foot pedal — every single thing in the body of that instrument. It’s really kind of cool and adds another dimension to the music.”

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Frank Hoensch/Redferns

4. Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor has been recording since 2001. “She’s Russian-born, grew up in New York. Great storyteller in her songwriting. She has a sense of humor, which I love. A lovely voice. I wanted to make sure I brought some newer albums to the table, so Home, Before and After (2022) is the one I’d recommend.”

spinner image ala.ni performing on stage in barcelona spain
Xavi Torrent/Redferns

5. ALA.NI

“Stunning voice, really sultry. Kind of Billie Holiday-ish. Really just lovely, lovely songs. She cut an album in 2017 called You & I, and I really love that record,” Boilen says of the London-born singer.

spinner image joan shelley performing during hymns for the holler in louisville kentucky
Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

6. Joan Shelley

She is a Kentucky-based folk songwriter and singer, and Boilen most likes her 2015 album, Over and Even. “Amazing voice. Paints lovely images with her words. She reminds me a bit of Sandy Denny, from back in the day, so people who might have loved British folk music from the ’60s and ’70s may come to love Joan Shelley.”

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