Jewly Hight

Many a singer has sung of mustering the strength to overcome hardship; it's the stuff of blustery power ballads, irrepressible empowerment anthems and aggressively aggrieved rock sing-alongs. But it's a simpler thing to narrate that act through lyrics than it is to embody that experience through a vivid performance.

Nashville gospel singers the McCrary Sisters know how to make a 500-strong crowd feel like they've been personally invited to the party.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


It wasn't all that long ago that the qualities valued most highly in the youthful sectors of folk-pop and folk-rock were earnestness and simplicity. This was music made with minimum fuss — all four-on-the-floor foot stomps, straight-ahead strumming and spirited sing-along choruses.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Advisory: This album contains profanity.

By now, we've been living with the popular archetype of the singer-songwriter for half a century or so, and multiple generations have worn their grooves into it, accumulating familiar lexicons along gender lines. We learned to expect our troubadours to work with particular personas, settings and themes, depending on whether they were women or men. Depictions of self-discovery through restless rambling were often heard as expressions of masculinity, while femininity was more closely associated with craving a settled existence and valuing intimate attachments.

From the sounds of things on the phone, Lizz Wright is going about the business of her daily life while she gives thoughtful responses to her interviewer's questions. There's the ding of a bell as a shop door closes behind her, a whispered "Hi" and, later, the electronic chiming that reminds you to fasten a car's seatbelt.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


When musicians take inward turns and begin penning lyrics that scrutinize the lives they're living, they'll often underscore the maturation and sophistication of their perspectives by striking a pensive tone. That way we'll hear how serious they are about doing away with facades. But that's not the only method of making artistic use of personal catharsis.

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