Top 10 Public Radio Studio Sessions Of 2013

Savages lead singer Jehnny Beth during the band's visit to KEXP in Seattle. (KEXP)

Every day, somewhere in America, a musician steps up to the microphone in a public radio station's studio and gives the sort of intimate performance that you'd never see in a concert hall. Given that the annual number of these special recordings climbs well into the thousands, the concept of the studio session felt ripe for a Top 10 list.

So we asked 10 of our partner stations to name the No. 1 favorite session they witnessed in 2013 and pinpoint the song that sent the most shivers down spines. Don't be surprised if you find yourself liking these versions more than their original recordings. They're that good.

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Aoife O'Donovan On Folk Alley

Our session with Aoife O'Donovan and her band, recorded in the Catskills at Ruthy Ungar & Mike Merenda's Humble Abode Studio, was our favorite for 2013. Aoife, Mike, Ruthy and all the guys in the band are good friends, and the vibe that beautiful spring day was great. The studio was warm and funky and comfortable, with great natural light. We were excited to hear O'Donovan in her new post-Crooked Still incarnation, performing songs from her debut solo album Fossils, and the performances did not disappoint. Here, she performs "Red & White & Blue & Gold" with Ryan Scott (guitar), Jacob Silver (bass) and Robin MacMillan (drums). --Linda Fahey, Folk Alley

Cody ChesnuTT On opbmusic

This session with Cody ChesnuTT and members of the Portland State University Orchestra is one of the most unusual sessions we've recorded. The sheet-music parts were sent by ChesnuTT's manager, and the orchestra assembled at OPB a few hours ahead of time to rehearse. When ChesnuTT arrived and heard its members play, he dropped his head, listening intently to the arrangement. He said he hadn't heard the strings since recording the album: "When I heard them the first time, I got choked up." The feeling of the performance, as well as a lyric that speaks to our culture of consumerism and distraction, helped make this my favorite session of 2013. --Dave Christensen, opbmusic

David Russell On Classical New England

The Scottish-born, Spanish-bred guitarist David Russell is one of the true masters of his instrument, as well as a musical hero of mine. I first heard him in the late '80s, before his career took off. To call that performance stunning is an understatement, so his visit to WGBH's Fraser Performance Studio was a confirmation of that brilliance I'd heard in person so many years earlier. But this time, we had the added benefit of meeting David Russell through conversation. He couldn't have been more gracious and charming, as you can hear in this video. --Brian McCreath, Classical New England

Dirty Projectors On Soundcheck

One of our video coups this year was an early-2013 visit from Dirty Projectors. Singer and composer David Longstreth brought in an unplugged version of the band — even the bass was a double bass rather than a bass guitar. But all the trademarks of Dirty Projectors' sound were accounted for. Startling female vocal harmonies? Check. Oblique lyrics and a melody that never settles into the expected? Check and check. The magic of Dirty Projectors is how Longstreth is able to create songs that do all of these things yet still sound lovely. Here is the obviously left-handed guitarist and the band, performing a terrific version of "Impregnable Question," originally from 2012's Swing Lo Magellan. --John Schaefer, WNYC's Soundcheck

Greyboy Allstars On Jazz24

In a year full of highlights, the most memorable live studio session here at KPLU featured the groove masters in The Greyboy Allstars. Before the session, saxophone and flute player Karl Denson asked if we had a percussion shaker. We didn't, but I offered a bottle of pills I'd just picked up at the pharmacy — and that's what you hear Denson playing during this smoking performance of "Inland Emperor." --Abe Beeson, Jazz24

Laura Mvula On WFUV

Laura Mvula had already earned buzz in the U.K. when she stopped by WFUV in April, and her debut album Sing to the Moon was just starting to attract attention in the U.S. Classically trained and from a musical family (her brother and sister are the other musicians in this session), Mvula adds a range of sounds and layers to her songs on the album, but in this performance of "She," we heard what lies at the core. --Rita Houston, WFUV

Laura Mvula On KCRW

Much of what we do at KCRW is about music discovery, and Laura Mvula's Sing to the Moon was an absolute revelation. Hailing from Birmingham, England, she and her live ensemble, which included some of her siblings, elegantly fused traditional and contemporary elements of pop, jazz and classical music, tracing many highlights from her album and leaving time for a Michael Jackson cover. --Jason Bentley, KCRW

The National On The Current

We weren't sure what to expect when The National played in our Forum — these guys had just performed at Lollapalooza during a relentless tour to promote Trouble Will Find Me. But Matt Berninger and company delivered a tight set, expertly mixed with poignancy and humor. --Brett Baldwin, The Current

Patty Griffin On KUTX

At KUTX, we are blessed with an amazing, state-of-the-art performance space with Studio 1A. We are also extremely fortunate to have great, world-class talent in our town — like Patty Griffin. When she brought her boyfriend with her to lend backing vocals to "Ohio," let's just say it was kind of a big deal. --Matt Reilly, KUTX

Savages On KEXP

Savages' members have a look to match their sound, which is made of contrasts by design. "Young women with pale skin and dark clothes play sharp, aggressive music loudly in the dark" is a terrific concept, but a challenging one for videographers. For their session on KEXP — their first American live radio performance ever — we had to change our usual in-studio setup to better fit the band's personality. Gone were the "faerie lights," vivid colors and loose camera work, all replaced by stark shadows and quick cuts. The result: a vivid representation of Savages' precision and ferocity. "Elegant Brutality," indeed. --Jim Beckmann, KEXP

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