Ann Powers

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.

One of the nation's most notable music critics, Powers has been writing for The Record, NPR's blog about finding, making, buying, sharing and talking about music, since April 2011.

Powers served as chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 until she joined NPR. Prior to the Los Angeles Times, she was senior critic at Blender and senior curator at Experience Music Project. From 1997 to 2001 Powers was a pop critic at The New York Times and before that worked as a senior editor at the Village Voice. Powers began her career working as an editor and columnist at San Francisco Weekly.

Her writing extends beyond blogs, magazines and newspapers. Powers co-wrote Tori Amos: Piece By Piece, with Amos, which was published in 2005. In 1999, Power's book Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America was published. She was the editor, with Evelyn McDonnell, of the 1995 book Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Rap, and Pop and the editor of Best Music Writing 2010.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University, Powers went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of California.

I am a Bowie girl. Not literally: I'm a little too young to have swiped my face with glitter and run out in lime-green platforms to see David Bowie storming through America in 1972 and 1973 with the Spiders from Mars, when he sent queer and alien dispatches across a heartland primed for them by Stonewall and women's lib and the sexual revolution but also feeling the slap of the Silent Majority as the Nixon era lumbered on.

The Year In Pop Music

Jan 1, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about pop music, where the biggest story of 2015 was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

INSKEEP: Adele's "25" may have outsold everything, but it was not the only story. Here is NPR Music's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz.

"Lyrics drove me to country music," said the producer Dave Cobb in an interview we published yesterday about his path from the L.A. rock scene to producing a handful of albums that signal a return of traditional country to Nashville's main stage, including ones by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. "I think maybe what I wanted to do is to find a way to make country records feel like all the other records I adored, but with those lyrics. And voice. I'm always looking for a voice."

Revivalism in music often seems to be no more than a matter of style: a perfectly greased pompadour, a well-pressed rack of vintage dresses, some vintage equipment and the careful mimicry of a particular "hi-de-ho" or drawl. It's the rare living musician who does the extra work to comprehend the past she or he pursues in its entirety, from the flashiest trends of the time to the notes in the margins. Paul Burch is that extra-hard worker who also happens to be gifted with an easeful way of getting his messages across.

1990s revivalism may be entering its dwarf-star phase without ever having shed proper light on itself. Last week, the 22-year-old rapper Vince Staples argued that for his generation, hip-hop's official Golden Age matters less than the viral onset of 21st-century stars like Soulja Boy.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

So many road anthems pave the history of popular music. Some make poetry of the white lines on the freeway; others floridly celebrate rock and roll fugitives riding the arena circuit on their steel mounts.

One For The Ages

Oct 19, 2015

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

"I think songs can have different lives," said Rhiannon Giddens in the conversation that flowed throughout NPR Music's "Songs We Love: Americana Fest Edition" panel on September 16 at Nashville's historic RCA Victor Studio A. "Each song has its own way that it likes to be done, but it can be more than one way," the Carolina Chocolate Drops multi-instrumentalist and singer continued. "If you tap into it, you can feel it."

So much history is contained in the intertwined harmonies of The Fairfield Four and The McCrary Sisters. Together, these groups form a link to one of America's greatest singing traditions — that of the gospel quartet, which flourished at the center of sacred music in the early to mid-20th century and inspired early rock 'n' rollers from doo-wop groups to Elvis Presley.

Gala event tribute speeches are often so much fluff—in the right hands, however, they ascend to the level of the poetic. On Wednesday night in Nashville, Robyn Hitchcock's paean to his longtime friends and collaborators Gillian Welch and David Rawlings hit that high mark. Handing them a Lifetime Achievement prize at the Americana Honors and Awards, Hitchcock wove a tale that was also a dream history of American roots music itself. It was so good we decided to publish it. Do they give awards for awards show speeches? The man in the polka-dot shirt deserves one.

Darlene Love is irrepressible. When the 73-year-old voice of 1960s girl-group primary texts like "He's A Rebel" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" accepted the 2013 Academy Award for the background-singer documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, in which she starred, she stole the moment from director Morgan Neville by singing the gospel classic "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" at the top of her lungs.

People on the cusp of maturity get called a lot of things. They're juveniles when they're in trouble, teenagers when they're having fun, adolescents when they're at the therapist's office, young adults when they're reading or going to see a movie based on a favorite book. As for pop music, that's youth's realm, incorporating the slang, dances, shifting mores and free-floating fears of every new generation. Yet it isn't that easy to capture, in a song, the particular sense of living in between childhood and the next thing.

Like Brooklyn and Northeast Los Angeles, East Nashville is a bohemian stronghold with an army of newcomers threatening its foundation. I'm one of those newbies, and every day I marvel at the creativity and plain love shared by the musicians who live here. But I also understand that gentrification is pushing out both longtime residents and impoverished younger talents, and that a perfectly prepared smoked-beet salad served in a bistro by an indie-rock guitarist-turned-waiter with a waxed moustache is no substitute for the time and creative space that affordable living makes possible.

Have you been waiting for the return of the Bottle Rockets? If you love indie-minded roots music, you have — even if you're not familiar with the veteran St. Louis band. Since the mid-1990s, Bottle Rockets bard Brian Henneman and his shifting ensemble of compadres (drummer Mark Ortmann is a constant) have been crafting heartland epics within a rock 'n' roll framework, that spill beer and stir the heart on impact.

All hail pop rock! Few categories in contemporary music are more maligned, yet what resides within this one can be tremendously energizing, adventurous and fun.

When the renowned radio personality and Grand Ole Opry fixture Bill Cody walked onto the stage at the Ryman Auditorioum to welcome Dolly Parton there for the first time in twelve years, he called her "the most beloved artist of all time." Then he quickly, almost imperceptibly, corrected himself, adding a qualifier: female artist." Who knows what flashed in Cody's mind in that moment — perhaps the face of Johnny Cash, the patron

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's be the first to listen to some country music. We call our feature First Listen because artists are debuting new work right here on our air. NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson have more on a new album from Ashley Monroe.

Last week, a story about The Runaways' Jackie Fuchs, centered around her account of being raped by the late music entrepreneur Kim Fowley in a motel room full of people on New Year's Eve in 1975, challenged the very idea that rock and roll is something worth loving.

Not every reverie is a happy one. A title like "She Takes Me There" suggests the floating bliss of a new love, but in this new taste of what the rising Nashville band Promised Land Sound is up to on its second album, the dream is a haunting.

Pages