Public Radio's Favorite New Musicians Of 2023
With autumn upon us, we decided it was time to poll NPR Music's Member station partners to find out the new musicians who caught their hosts' ears this year. We had one question: Identify your favorite artist who entered 2023 without a full-length album.
We received 13 answers, and the results spanned rock, Americana, soul, jazz and electronic music. Enjoy this public radio panoply of emerging artists who've made the most of 2023.
From the frisky and joyful "Buy You A New Attitude" to the deeply personal reclamation of power in "Terror" to the Flamenco-inspired "Granada" (a song that sounds like a James Bond theme), 23-year-old Tianna Esperanza's debut album shows incredible range and emotional depth. Her collection feels like a masterclass in genre-bending, as she effortlessly slips between folk, classical, and jazz — with punk and funk flourishes — and features a consistent hip-hop tinge. Esperanza may've come from a very conservative Pentecostal upbringing on Cape Cod, but one gets the sense that adventurous music is in her blood. After all, her grandmother is punk drummer Paloma McLardy (aka Palmolive) from The Slits and The Raincoats. On Terror, we also find collaborations with Rachel Yamagata, Mick Flannery, and Valerie June, her dear friend and mentor. —Alex Cortright, WTMD (Baltimore)
Take chances. Be fearless. That's the attitude that has taken Austin's LP Giobbi (born Leah Chisolm) from high-school piano lessons to Lollapalooza in short order. The young Deadhead and jazz pianist received a crash course in dance music. "I'd be playing too many notes," she told us. "I had to strip everything back." Now she DJs and improvises on keys to large adoring crowds. Her debut, Light Places, has a new expanded edition. She's touring and hosting producer workshops this fall, and just this month launched a new record label, Yes Yes Yes, with Defected Records. —Jeff McCord, KUTX (Austin)
When the song "Runaway to Mars" ran away on social, it sent musician Nicholas Durocher (aka TALK) scrambling toward a slew of dates across the country, opening for bands like Milky Chance and Young the Giant. With more talent than a single song can convey, and a band just as insanely talented and entertaining as he is, look for the opportunity to see TALK live. Then, be sure not to miss his signature Croc kick. —Sarah Bradshaw, 90.9 The Bridge (Kansas City)
"Come around and love me." Jalen Ngonda's request is simple. And therein, lies the hook. There's no command, no manipulation — just a good-natured beckon paired with a warm, gentle groove. Growing up, the D.C.-bred, London-based soul singer absorbed the sweet sounds of Motown (particularly Marvin Gaye), whose influence rings through as clear as those bongo hits on "Come Around and Love Me," where Ngonda explores the gift of his own voice. The full album glows with the help of producers-arrangers Mike Buckley and Vincent Chiarito (members of Charles Bradley's Extraordinaires) and various members of the Daptone family. The overall sound is classic and fresh and I can't wait to hear more. —Erin Wolf, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Once in a blue moon, a singer-songwriter emerges that writes so far above what their young life would inform, that it feels as if there is a touch of the divine at work. Jobi Riccio is that kind of artist. On her debut, Whiplash, she digs into the emotional corners of emerging into adulthood with a deft sense of songcraft. On stage, she is cool, comfortable, and witty. It is a joy to sit with her and talk about music, as well, as she has studied the roots from where she drinks, and they run as deep as she does. —Jessie Scott, WMOT (Nashville)
Had it not been for a soccer injury — and a guitar that kept Abraham Alexander busy while he healed — SEA/SONS, the Texas-based musician's compelling debut album, might not exist. Catastrophic events shaped Alexander's early life, but he reflects on his youth with courage, revisiting the tragic deaths of his mother ("Today") and brother ("Xavier"). A stirring duet with Mavis Staples, "Déjà Vu," honors the late Kalief Browder, wrongfully imprisoned for three years. While Alexander's smoky tenor suits his wistful side ("Tears Run Dry"), this is a sunlit album of healing. –Kara Manning, WFUV (New York)
As Blondshell, L.A. (by way of New York City) singer-songwriter Sabrina Teitelbaum is one of several artists heralding the return of grunge in 2023. No flannel or combat boots, per se; it's more a tenor or spirit that seems to mirror the music of the last ten years of the 20th century more than the shimmering sheen of the new millennium. "Can't get through winter / At your house, sweat out the drugs all through the summer / Let my heart sleep in the gutter," Teitelbaum sings on "Olympus," a standout track from Blondshell. There's a jaggedness and a soft-loud dynamism to the album that, along with Teitelbaum's vulnerable lyrics and wry commentary on misbehavior, is enjoyably grunge. —Matthew Shaw, WJCT (Jacksonville)
Hannah Judagu is an artist who managed to write, record and release one of the most interesting sounding albums of the year in between music business classes at New York University. Her knack for assembling songs that are both sonically interesting and disciplined is a skill that feels beyond her years. If she is making an album like Aperture now, can you even imagine what she will be doing in five or 10 years? —Justin Barney, WNXP (Nashville)
Madison McFerrin most certainly doesn't rely on her DNA (she's the daughter of Bobby McFerrin, sibling to Taylor McFerrin) as a hook to draw listeners in. That's accomplished by her magic spell of vocal effervescence, tempered by her wry, cut-to-the-marrow manner with lyrics. On her 2023 debut album, I Hope You Can Forgive Me, she aptly fleshes out the singular, sour-sweet, pop-inflected sound that she's been developing since the release of her first EP in 2016. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo (Chicago)
Nat Myers is a very captivating musician. He draws listeners into a sonic world that seamlessly fuses raw emotion with musical finesse. His lyrics resonate on a personal level, especially when paired with melodies that linger. The Korean-American bluesman is amazingly authentic at a time when it's never been easier to follow in others' footsteps. We'll be following him wherever he goes next. —Benji McPhail, KXT (Dallas/Fort Worth)
Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, waterbaby creates lo-fi pop songs that don't waste any time getting lodged in your head. You can hear that on the mellow and infectious love song "911," which was released on her Sub Pop debut EP, FOAM, earlier this year. Her music is often melancholy but in a relatable and comforting way, like watching the rain fall when you have no intentions of leaving the house. —Brian Burns, WUNC (Chapel Hill)
As the Americana duo Briscoe, Philip Lupton and Truett Heintzelman began making music together as teenagers and signed a record deal as undergraduate students at the University of Texas. They graduated earlier this year, having spent the remainder of their college time decamping to North Carolina to record with Durham producer Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Waxahatchee, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats). The result is their debut album, West of It All, which came out Sept. 15. "It's a record about friends, the outdoors, love, and everything in between," they recently told WNRN. Drawing sonic inspiration from Texas Hill Country, lead single "The Well" brims with lush harmonies and plucking banjo. After filling opening slots for Caamp and Dave Matthews Band, they're poised for a breakout autumn with their own headlining tour. —Desiré Moses, WNRN (Charlottesville)
Nazir Ebo is multi-instrumentalist phenom from Philadelphia. He came up under a community of educators and family members. His brother Justin Faukner is the drummer with saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his mother is a classical pianist. Ebo's own voice is strong and he seems eager to showcase his dynamic range on the kit. His versatility allows him to tell a story with textures and scenes. Those attributes recently earned him a spot drumming with saxophonist Joshua Redman on a world tour. Ebo also flexes with his own quartet. It features two guitarists that intertwine and interact to create the defining characteristic of this band. Ebo cites drummer Tony Williams as a main influence and if you're looking for more references I'd also include more contemporary jazz icons like Kurt Rosenwinkel and Thundercat. His quartet's debut album is slated for release in 2024. —Alexander Ariff, WRTI (Philadelphia)
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