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.

These days, for many people in country music's mainstream — and beyond it — the genre's version of "sexy" is corny. Rump-shaking dudes in man buns beckoning women who frankly feel a little harassed into their flatbed Fords ... At their worst, country's 21st-century dreamboats operate on the principles of hair metal, mixed with CrossFit. That's the stereotype and the perception, anyway.

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.

It's tough, in 2015, for a singer-songwriter to be an all-around talent. Artists make their mark on distracted fans with a signature sound, a look, or maybe even a mood. But the journeyman's knowledge of how to move from a gut-wrenching story to a zinger of a joke, how to rock hard and hush the room with a poignant melody, seems harder to acquire. It takes years to become very good at more than one thing. It also requires bold modesty, the guts to not dwell on what comes first, and, instead, to try it all.

Charlie Rich called them life's little ups and downs, but the details that animate country music are often more ambiguous twists and turns. What happens in the most memorable songs is not always tragic, and not always out of the teller's control. This is especially true when it comes to the young bunch of women singer-songwriters currently refreshing the genre. Miranda Lambert's hits reconcile homey values with the urge to lean in or just take off. Ashley Monroe sings of mistakes confronted and transcended with clear-eyed equanimity.

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.