Ann Powers

Wrapping up a year of some incredible sessions, this week, World Cafe is digging into the archives for some of its best performances and interviews of 2017.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.

Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter, collectively known as Penny & Sparrow, are pin-drop performers, the kind which silence rooms with impeccable songs and storytelling that unfolds like a dream. The duo has amassed a devoted following in six years, and traveled from Austin, Texas to Muscle Shoals, Ala., now splitting its time between the two musical centers.

With the nominees recently announced, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards return to New York City, taking place at Madison Square Garden on January 28. Over the years, World Cafe has had numerous visits from those nominated and those who've won.

Emily West is one of those rare talents who leaves new fans wondering: Where have you been all my life? Her voice has the raw power and gem-like beauty of an old-fashioned pop star; indeed, she won second place on television's America's Got Talent in 2014.

Willie Watson feels his way through America's musical history by sliding an old bottleneck against the strings of his acoustic guitar. He finds it in the grain of his own voice, cultivated over 20 years of singing old songs his own way. First as a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now in his own solo career, Watson has brought folk-based roots music alive for new listeners in the 21st century.

Becca Mancari likes to take the long way around. The Nashville singer-songwriter was born in Staten Island, grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed her love of American roots music during her student days in Virginia. She's traveled the country and the world; some of the spaciousness in her hypnotic, subtle songs comes from lessons she learned while on a walkabout in India.

When Margo Price wailed, "Let's go back to Tennessee," on her 2016 breakthrough album Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she meant more than her current home town of Nashville. The queen of East Nashville has a long relationship with Memphis, forged through collaboration with producer Matt Ross-Spang, one of the young movers and shakers who's helping put that other mid-South music capitol and its classic studios back on the recording map.

Growing up outside Philadelphia, Devon Gilfillian learned about the working musician's life from his father, a singer and percussionist in a beloved local party band. He found his own path as a singer-songwriter and moved to Nashville just a few years ago, in hopes of finding a community appreciative of his blend of social consciousness, rootsy melodies and soulful grooves. Like so many before him, Gilfillian found those peers while waiting tables in a popular local venue, where he also absorbed the musical lessons of the stars who stopped by on tour.

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