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.

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The Record
8:52 am
Thu July 24, 2014

First Watch: Maddie & Tae, 'Girl In A Country Song'

Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye.
Republic Records

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 9:57 am

It's starting to seem like even the bros are tired of bro country. The truck-loving Florida Georgia Line has switched up its game with the chart- dominant "Dirt," a sensitive ballad about marriage and farming.

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First Listen
11:20 pm
Sun July 20, 2014

First Listen: Jenny Lewis, 'The Voyager'

Jenny Lewis' new album, The Voyager, comes out July 29.
Autumn de Wilde Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 21, 2014 11:31 am

"Nostalgia has no place for the woman traveling alone," the great travel writer Mary Morris once wrote. "Our motion is forward, whether by train or daydream." She's describing a necessary ruthlessness: Women are so often defined by their attachments (family, romance, even the fetishes of style) that becoming light enough to move often requires behavior others might read as cruel or, at best, distanced.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Morrissey, 'World Peace Is None Of Your Business'

Morrissey's new album, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, comes out July 15.
Greg Gorman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 11:12 am

The rhetorical essence of punk is the decision to say what others believe should not be said. It points out the "no" lurking within or near every "yes." It demands an ongoing reckoning with true outsiders, and with what remains wrong in society despite everyone's best efforts, simply because people and the structures they make are flawed.

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The Record
8:33 am
Thu July 3, 2014

The Hits Of Yesterday And Today

Paramore's "Ain't It Fun" was originally released on Paramore in April 2013, but the single hit radio in February and hasn't left since.
Mike Coppola Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 1:48 pm

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The Record
11:57 am
Thu June 26, 2014

He'll Be There For You

You've Got A Friend: Ed Sheeran's second album, X, released this week, sets out to prove that the "friend zone" doesn't have to be toxic.
Ben Watts Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri June 27, 2014 9:36 am

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 22, 2014

First Listen: Jim Lauderdale, 'I'm A Song'

Jim Lauderdale's new album, I'm A Song, comes out July 1.
Scott Simontacchi Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 12:51 pm

I recently ran into Jim Lauderdale at a party in Nashville, and I couldn't tell if his shirt was made of silk or cotton. Covered in fiery little dragons that seemed to flit around inside its piped seams, it was a beauty. Lauderdale told me it was made of breathable material and that it came from London. Its cheerfully theatrical boldness exemplified the style of the Grand Ole Opry, too, with a cosmopolitan and slightly ironic twist.

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The Record
3:31 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

A Gentle Buzz At The CMA Music Festival

During the CMA Festival in downtown Nashville, Miranda Lambert (left) welcomed Carrie Underwood for a duet on their hit "Somethin' Bad."
John Russell CMA

American music festivals used to be mostly a summer thing, but in many ways they now frame the concert experience all year round. In these temporary hot spots for pleasure and cultural conversation, new artists emerge as sensations and established ones do special things with fans. Culture watchers note fashion trends and predict whose careers will rise and fall by observing what emerges from festivals' impromptu communities.

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First Listen
7:03 am
Fri June 6, 2014

First Listen: Willie Nelson, 'Band Of Brothers'

Willie Nelson's new album, Band of Brothers, comes out June 17.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 12:33 pm

When Willie Nelson was a young hustler selling songs to Patsy Cline's people, he probably never thought he'd become the crowd-anointed sage of country music. But that's what happened as the Redheaded Stranger went gray, turned smoking weed into a brand and a virtue, and produced a discography that added up to its own American Songbook.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Mon June 2, 2014

Miranda Lambert's 'Priscilla,' An Ode To 'Being Queen Of A King'

Miranda Lambert's album, Platinum, comes out on June 3.
Randee St. Nicholas Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 3, 2014 8:56 am

Pop stars are the ideal companions of their fans' daydreams, speaking their most romantic hopes and defiant declarations through the songs on the Top 40. Miranda Lambert, however, is the kind of friend who's not going to take anybody's bull. As country's most lauded million-selling artist, beloved by everyday listeners and critics alike, Lambert has crafted a body of work grounded in the realism of muscle, flesh and heart.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 1, 2014

First Listen: Jose James, 'While You Were Sleeping'

Jose James' new album, While You Were Sleeping, comes out June 10.
Janette Beckman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 12:13 pm

When the spirit of Nirvana surfaces in a song, the artist paying tribute almost always shares style points with that treasured band. The hair is shaggy, the clothes a little ragged; the lineage unfolds, relatively neatly, from punk to the present.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

First Listen: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, 'Dereconstructed'

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' new album, Dereconstructed, comes out May 27.
Wes Frazer Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 12:08 pm

In north central Alabama, punk rockers often know as much about football as they do mosh pits. A guy with an arm-sleeve tattoo will open the door for a woman and call her "ma'am." Self-identifying as a blue dot in a red state doesn't preclude Sunday brunch with relatives whose own cars boast confederate-flag stickers. Such differences can arise anywhere, but they can feel more pressing in the Deep South, where history is sticky, like a 90-degree rainy day, and intimate, like Grandma's questionable advice.

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The Record
11:39 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Why Tori Amos Connects

Tori Amos on stage in Glasgow, three days before the release of her 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines.
Ross Gilmore Redferns via Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 5:40 pm

When I spent time on tour with Tori Amos a decade ago, collaborating with her on a book, I'd see her invoke the four elements many nights before her band would take the stage.

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All Songs Considered
11:03 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Song Premiere: Naomi Shelton And The Gospel Queens, 'Sinner'

Jacob Blickenstaff Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu May 15, 2014 10:18 am

In 1963, Alabama was culturally closer to Brooklyn than it is now. The Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South created enclaves in cities all over the country, and the Civil Rights movement trained the eyes of the North on cities like Birmingham. Alabama native Naomi Shelton came to Brooklyn that year with the gospel in her heart and soul music turning her head. She found a place to sing, a bar on Flatbush Avenue, and a musical partner in keyboardist Cliff Driver. Flatbush Avenue rang out with the sound of her Southern blend of grace and grit.

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The Record
2:42 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Is It Worth It To Work It?

The album cover for Lily Allen's Sheezus goes after multiple targets, including Kanye West (in the album's title) and Queen Elizabeth II (the corgis).
Courtesy of the artist

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The Record
12:07 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

God, Drugs And Lizard Aliens: Yep, It's Country Music

Sturgill Simpson's second album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, takes inspiration from both Ray Charles and research into near-death experiences.
Crackerfarm Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 8:51 am

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The Record
10:41 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Why We Fight About Pop Music

Kanye West performing in New York City, 2012
13thWitness Getty Images for Samsung

Originally published on Wed April 16, 2014 2:03 pm

In 2007, the Canadian music critic Carl Wilson published a book-length experiment in extreme aesthetic sport: a sincere and shockingly comprehensive study of music he had already decided he hated. That book, Let's Talk About Love, named for the Celine Dion album it studied, has become a cornerstone text in the school of criticism known as "poptimism," because it treats seemingly disposable pop music as worthy of serious thought.

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First Listen
11:32 pm
Sun April 6, 2014

First Listen: The Afghan Whigs, 'Do To The Beast'

The Afghan Whigs' new album, Do to the Beast, comes out April 15.
Piper Ferguson

Originally published on Tue April 15, 2014 3:27 pm

A lover's obsessiveness may charm at first, but it can soon turn frightening. For an artist, the relentless pursuit of one object — a sound, a memory dragged up and reshaped, a fantasy that makes the long hours of work feel intimate — feeds creativity or freezes it. Greg Dulli has been chasing the same seductive nightmare since he was 22, when his band The Afghan Whigs formed. Next year, he'll turn 50. He's spent a long time, in his mind, sitting in a darkened car in front of the same house.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 6, 2014

First Listen: Ben Watt, 'Hendra'

Ben Watt's new album, Hendra, comes out April 29.
Edward Bishop Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 24, 2014 10:14 am

The stranger on the bus, the woman who gives you your change at the corner store; every human loves and hurts and finds a way to navigate through life's confusions. But most people don't share their inner lives with many others. It's a special gift when an artist tells the stories of plain people in an ordinary voice, leaving in the stops and starts, the seeming banality, and the unadorned insight that each of us experiences when things hit hard, or when the days and nights just go on.

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The Record
5:13 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Make Peace With Pop: 6 Songs That Prove Pop Gets Along With Everyone

Originally published on Fri April 4, 2014 6:53 pm

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 30, 2014

First Listen: EMA, 'The Future's Void'

EMA's new album, The Future's Void, comes out April 8.
Leif Shackelford Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 12:53 pm

Erika M. Anderson appreciates the flickering quality of meaning. She likes the sparks that fly off sounds, igniting constructive confusion: the buzz that makes an old synth sound like a guitar, or the way an acoustic beat can crash into an electronic one to make a whole nervous system of rhythm. She's also into wordplay, starting with the name of her ongoing project EMA — an acronym that could stand for a government agency but, read another way, is a feminine name. Then there's the title of her second album, The Future's Void, with its odd, homonym-like instability.

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