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.

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.

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

Before we took the stage for an interview before her First Listen Live performance at WNYC's The Greene Space, Ashley Monroe and I did what two people who've just met often do: We chatted about the weather. A Southern-style heat wave had descended upon Manhattan, and it was messing a little with our fun. Monroe, a student of retro fashion who's particularly fond of the 1960s mod look, told of going to the Manhattan outlet of England's Topshop and almost getting stuck in one snug dress because of the humidity.

Ashley Monroe is so much more than a Tennessee lark. At 28, she's a seasoned songwriter and performer who has worked in many different musical modes, from classic country to bluegrass to bluesy rock and roll to power pop. Leading her hot band in this First Listen Live performance at WNYC's Greene Space in Manhattan, Monroe demonstrated the range she's mastered on her new, breakthrough album The Blade.

Nick Drake's music is catnip to a certain kind of artist. Melodically pristine and rhythmically complex in quiet ways, the small songbook of the late English singer-songwriter offers interpreters a chance to be enchanting without stretching much. Yet to make Drake's songs new is a challenge. His vocal style of lingering around a beat, while playing guitar parts that were never flashy but always dazzlingly complex, is possible to imitate but difficult to make truly personal.

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.

A word for artists striving to make something timeless: Stop. People live within history. It provides particular tools, collaborators and ideas that even the most blinkered hermit can't really avoid.

For anyone more interested in Amy Winehouse's music than in her martyrdom, the most shocking images in Asif Kapadia's new documentary Amy may not be the ones showing her strung out and terrifyingly thin at the end of her short life, nor those capturing her turn into serious addiction in filthy, paraphernalia-strewn rooms she shared with her enabler and eventual husband, Blake Fielder-Civil.

If they're lucky, talented and charismatic, young musical men in Nashville can find themselves playing a game of musical Let's Make A Deal. Behind Door No. 1 is a truck, a beer cooler and a lady in snug jeans; the challenge is to make anything out of these party-anthem ingredients that feels fresh and isn't insipid. Door No. 2 conceals the tools of traditionalism — a cowboy (or, currently, trucker) hat, an acoustic guitar and a solid but burdensome set of assumptions about what authentic storytelling can be. Behind Door No. 3? That's the hot spot for people who like to dance.

The romance of artistic collaboration is as potent and mysterious as the draw of sex. But pop music tends to obsess on the latter while keeping the former process in the background. "Nothing But The Silence," the title track from the T-Bone Burnett-produced debut album by the Nashville duo Striking Matches, reads as the love song of a dented heart at first, but multiple listens open up its meanings.

Donnie Fritts knows what it's like to be held in the silver shimmer of celluloid, and he's had years of experience playing wingman to a heartthrob. That's why "Errol Flynn," a song written by the cabaret raconteur Amanda McBroom for her actor father, David Bruce, works perfectly as the lead single from Oh My Goodness, Fritts' new album. Contemplating the tattered poster she's tacked to her wall of her dad standing with the song's titular leading man, McBroom ponders fame and mortality and cautions listeners to treasure personal connections over Hollywood fantasies.

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