Avant-garde jazz, singer-songwriters and more: The Current's Diane Miller shares her favorite local music

The Bad Plus press photo
The Bad Plus
Elena Stanton for The Current | 2021

We love listening to new music on Minnesota Now — and who better to talk about it than Diane Miller, host of The Local Show on The Current?

Miller joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to share what she’s been listening to lately.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[THE BAD PLUS, "ELECTRIC FACE"] CATHY WURZER: You already know, we love listening to new music here on Minnesota Now, especially local music. And who better to talk about Minnesota musicians than Diane Miller? She joins us a few times a month to talk local music because she is the host of The Local Show on our sister station, The Current. Hey, Diane. Welcome back. How are you?

DIANE MILLER: Hey, I'm good. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Well, that little bit of music that we played at the start was called "Electric Face." It's by the band, The Bad Plus. Who are The Bad Plus?

DIANE MILLER: To be honest, they're actually more considered a New York City band, but it features Dave King as the percussionist. And Dave King is based right here in the Twin Cities, as well as bassist Reid Anderson, who grew up in the Twin Cities area. And those two have been childhood friends and went on to create this world-class, avant garde jazz group called The Bad Plus, have literally toured the globe and have a new lineup with The Bad Plus. Now have tenor, sax, and guitar, in place of piano.

And this new lineup is leading them to be able to play in a rock club setting, such as First Avenue. And they're playing at First Avenue on June 10 for the first time ever, which is a really big deal.

But yeah, I just had Dave King as a guest on The Local Show this past Sunday, and he is such a charismatic, charming, and smart human and musician. So it was a real treat to have him in.

CATHY WURZER: That First Ave concert's going to be big too. You are right about that.

Say, let's move on and talk about Ondara. Ondara-- of course, we talked about Ondara, I believe, last month on the program right after he won an international songwriting competition.


CATHY WURZER: --for the song "An Alien in Minneapolis." I want to play another track from him though.

[JS ONDARA, "A SHAKEDOWN IN BERLIN"] Well, it's been a long time coming. Well, it's been a long time coming. I don't know how to let you go. Please show me.

CATHY WURZER: This is called "A Shakedown in Berlin." Tell me about this song and about his work.

DIANE MILLER: Yeah. Ondara is just so multifaceted as a singer, but also as a songwriter, like the song that he just won, "An Alien in Minneapolis," of course, is a brilliant song. But song after song, record after record, he writes-- he is a prolific, amazing songwriter. And English is his second language, which is crazy. He was born in Kenya, and he moved to the United States when he was 20. And I remember hearing that he would basically be doing open mics around town, and now he's this renowned Grammy-award winning-- or Grammy-nominated artist.

And that song, "A Shakedown in Berlin" has just gotten on rotation on The Current for another great tune for people to sing along to. I was just at his concert at the Cedar Cultural Center. It was sold out, and you could tell the audience was just beaming and wanting to sing along to everything that he writes.

CATHY WURZER: He's fantastic.

DIANE MILLER: Absolutely.

CATHY WURZER: We're listening to another bit of music because we have so much to go through. This is called "Blockbuster" by KC Rae.

[KC RAE, "BLOCKBUSTER"] --never felt so lonely bring me to another time when I was 17 my cousin took the car and she drove it to Blockbuster. "Aren't you scared to get caught?"

CATHY WURZER: Now who is KC Rae?

DIANE MILLER: KC Rae is actually KC Dalager, who is the lead singer of the indie electro pop group Now, Now and is originally from Blaine, Minnesota. And Now, Now really was prominent in 2010s. And she's since branched off into doing a solo project. She really wanted to prove that she could really make and produce music on her own. And wow, that song "Blockbuster" is so good and it's one of my new favorites.

I feel like it's comparison to some new Taylor Swift, meets Haim, meets Samia. She's got a just beautiful, touching, comforting, warm voice, but also really hits this new sound that these younger artists are making, along this vein of sophisticated pop music. I'm a huge fan of KC Rae.

CATHY WURZER: She is amazing. So by the way, we have-- I personally prefer stripped down, folksy music, which there's a lot of that in the state of Minnesota, which I appreciate. So I want to play this particular track, and then I want you to tell me about the artist. Go ahead. Let's play "Only Human."

[KASHIMANA, "ONLY HUMAN"] Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, [VOCALIZING] I can feel the change. Change in my bones. I can see the glow, that's luminescence too early to show.

CATHY WURZER: Now who is this?

DIANE MILLER: This is Kashimana, and this is a song she wrote about recently become a mom. And I love its stripped down, like you said, rootsy, organic sound. It's just layered harmonies and a shaker in the back. So it has this very down home sound, and it's really great.

And she's multifaceted, award-winning songwriter-composer. She won the Jerome not too long ago. And also she's performing at the Lake Harriet Bandshell on June 21, if you'd like to catch her live. But she's a fabulous songwriter and singer.

CATHY WURZER: Nice. Nice. Yeah.

Now I've been waiting the entire interview to this point. I'm very excited about this. Folks who are Semisonic fans, the 90s band, of course, the well-known '90s band, they have a new track. And I'm just so curious to see what you say about this. This is called "Little Bit of Sun."

[SEMISONIC, "LITTLE BIT OF SUN"] Come set me straight cause I've been losing my mind. Most things that make me laugh just make me cry. Little bit of sun, little bit of sky. I think I see it from the corner of my eye.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, I'm so excited. Diane, tell me about this.

DIANE MILLER: Semisonic, "Little Bit of Sun." This is literally a song about letting in light and bringing in joy. And if there is one singer based in the Twin Cities that has one of those most comforting voices, it's Dan Wilson. He's based out of LA now too, but gosh, Semisonic, of course, is known as a Minneapolis band. In fact, they headlined The Current's 18th anniversary party this past January, I want to say.

And yeah, they're obviously famously known for their big hit "Closing Time," but not a lot of people realize how much of a rich catalog that Semisonic has and so many great tunes. And I feel like this one really hits the mark on being another great, beautiful, feel-good track for the summer after we've experienced so much darkness, especially with the pandemic and all the political turmoil. I feel like this song is just a really great feel-good track.

CATHY WURZER: I agree. And because we need more joy in our lives, we're going to play that track going out of our conversation, OK? So let's hit that music. Say thank you to Diane. You are amazing. Thank you, Diane Miller.

DIANE MILLER: Thank you. Pleasure.

CATHY WURZER: Diane can be heard every Sunday evening on our sister station, The Current. She hosts The Local Show airing from 6 to 8 PM on Sunday. You can find it online at thecurrent.org.

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