The podcast is the new book. Don’t get us wrong, we love a good story and will never grow out of reading, given a tangible tale in hand. Yet, the efficiency of a podcast cannot be overlooked. The best ones offer great narratives spoken right into your speakers or earbuds, allowing you to be entertained on the go or while you’re knocking out a project.
Like books, podcasts come in all genres, from food podcasts to ones about history, trees, sleep, outer space, true crime — you name it. The music podcast is one of the most engaging, as it’s one of the best topics to converse about, debate, and wax poetic (or nostalgic) about. Some like to nerd out about the nature of a classic song’s lyrics. Others focus on the characters behind the microphone stand or electric guitar. And they cover it all, from the unbelievable storylines that tend to shadow country music to the ridiculousness of rock stardom. Sometimes, they just play a good live set of tunes you didn’t realize you needed.
This podcast is the work of diehard country music junkie Tyler Mahan Coe. If you recognize the name, it’s because his father is David Allan Coe, a songwriter who grew to some fame after his start busking in Nashville. The younger Coe is carrying on the legacy, only from a storytelling standpoint. Turns out, country music — real George Jones country music, not Dierks Bentley — is full of incredible sagas. It’s not really surprising, given the subject matter of so many classic country songs, but Coe connects all of the dots and paints painstakingly clear contextual backdrops, allowing for maximum enjoyment. Plus, you’ll probably end up with a new artist or two worth diving deeply into on your favorite streaming service.
Whatever you think about Spotify, the bots inside know a thing or two about linking your musical taste to other great artists. The service also produces a great podcast now and again, such as the cultish Bandsplain. The series takes on all kinds of artists and albums, from Kool Keith and Gin Blossoms to Metallica and Phish. It’s all over the board but grounded in expert opinion and stellar playlists, all put together by Yasi Salek. It’s like a very polished version of those wee-hours conversations you have with your best music buddies about, say, why Blink 182 produces such earworms. In other words, get the THC or CBD gummies out (or mix yourself a nice Boulevardier or Hot Toddy), and get listening.
Jad Abumrad is at the helm of this podcast. He’s responsible for Radiolab, one of the best radio shows of the last generation. This miniseries of sorts started really as a curiosity — he and Dolly are both from small-town Tennessee — but blossoms quickly into a lovely character portrait of a true American icon. Dolly Parton talks about everything, from influences and relationships to pop culture and her ability to play dozens of instruments (none particularly well, she says in signature humbleness). In the end, you realize why she’s adored by just about every human on the planet, and that kind of unifying magic is genuinely uplifting. After just a single episode, I put Dolly on my shortlist of celebrities I’d love to have a beer or coffee with.
I can’t tell you how many times Bob Boilen has turned me on to some incredible band I’d never listened to prior. That’s the beauty of this NPR program, cohosted by Rob Hilton. The two genuinely love music, and not just the currently trending indie act or the provocative pop artist. The podcast covers all kinds of music, with the overarching theme being quality. The commentary is always wise and the guests have gotten better and better as the show has aged. It’s really reached its apex, with music at the center of a rich cultural tapestry Boilen and Hilton help bring to life.
In podcast land, Questlove Supreme is practically ancient, having run since 2016. Listening, you quickly realize it’s been such a hit. Questlove is an unmatched personality with a unique take on music, having so much experience behind the drum kit, in the production studio, etc. It’s a fantastic one-two punch of having your favorite acts answer all of your fanboy questions while at the same time getting that insider info that only a fellow musician could extract. Many know the host as the drummer for The Roots and for the one-liners he’ll now and again deliver on Fallon. This podcast crawls inside his musical brain, along with those of his guests.
A true garage project from an outfit that adores the classic rock universe, this podcast is a slow-burning analysis of some of the greatest albums of all time. You know, the work of The Monkees, The Beatles, The Clash, Bowie, Buddy Guy, The Police, and more. And it’s not just for flower children of the 1960s and 70s (although that’s obviously the focus), as the show has taken on some more contemporary acts, like Death Cab for Cutie and Weezer. Sure, determining whether or not something is classic is subject to all kinds of opinions, and that’s precisely the point with this podcast. If nothing else, you’ll gain a new respect for a beloved LP and ask the question yourself as you revisit it from start to finish.
This excellent and fairly under-the-radar show out of Waco, Texas focuses on gospel and just how formative that genre really was (and still is) when it comes to American music. The genre forms the basis of just about everything we like today and it’s a fun journey to revisit some of the hits with host Robert Darden. Like most public radio enterprises, it’s not lacking in terms of nuance and detail. Better, it showcases the very best of gospel — genuine hits that are strikingly similar to some of the mega pop we enjoy today, if you listen closely. Most importantly, it focuses on the Black community behind so many of these hits, from an era when they were mostly overshadowed or given little to no credit.
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