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.

Every songwriting class should include a section on managing metaphor. Those graceful figures so easily spin out of control. They can overstay their welcome, turning lyrics into Scrabble games and undermining the narrative impact an artist seeks. In the hands of a writer as gifted, compassionate and clear-headed as Lori McKenna, however, metaphors not only serve the human spirit of a song but become characters themselves, taking subtle emotional turns and serving not mere cleverness, but deeper truth.

Over two decades and 11 studio albums, the Alabama-born, Georgia-bred band Drive-By Truckers has crafted a multifaceted vision of a stubborn, changing South, decimating stereotypes by excavating the truths from which those myths had sprung. The Truckers' sound has always been an equal mix of punk and Muscle Shoals, freshly inked graffiti and used-car exhaust; over the years, its messages have grown both more refined and thicker with meaning, more historically informed, more urgent.

Very few musical gatherings during the crowded summer festival season have been going on as long as CMA Music Fest, which launched under the name Fan Fair in 1972 and now descends upon Nashville just after the heat and humidity set in each June. One of the secrets to its longevity is that it's always been a place where country fans can encounter artists up close; folks who get a bit of face time with their favorite artists, maybe even a hug, are prone to keep coming back.

In this age of peer-policed hyperproductivity, the practice of pausing and thinking is fetishized but rarely truly supported. Reflection has become yet another goal achieved through an app: something to show off on our socials within an anxiously curated stream of fresh plans, ideas and accomplishments. This is true for musicians just as it is for mommy bloggers and tech entrepreneurs. Time spent outside the spotlight, it's assumed, isn't quiet time, but another occasion for overwork.

Among the younger artists who live on the border between traditional country music and singer-songwriterly Americana, women are currently leading the way. Kelsey Waldon is one of the best among them, crafting musical commentaries on 21st-century American lives that honor the past while remaining fiercely engaged with the present.

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

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

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

Esmé Patterson is one of several young women — others include Frances Quinlan of Hop Along, Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield, and Julien Baker — making music that could be called synapse-rock.

Somewhere in the back of my closet is a torn photograph from a party in Seattle in 1982. Dig if you will the picture: It's me, in a second-hand chiffon dress that (though the photo is black and white) I'm sure is violet. My hair is a two-toned mass of strawberries and cream, my neck's draped in my mom's big costume pearls; a bracelet of pretend diamonds dangles from my wrist. This is an ordinary look for a college girl with a nightlife obsession in 1982. I'm gazing into a mirror; behind me is my friend Pete, holding the camera, laughing his head off.

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

Breakups are heart-shattering, life-changing, momentously difficult, clinically depressing, spiritually enlightening, and many other things. They can also, at times, be tedious. Dodging vindictiveness, awkward silence and plain unavoidable pain becomes a consuming preoccupation. Good-party rage and bad-party guilt collide in breakfast nooks.

The most meme-able moment of Michelle Obama's keynote event at yesterday's South by Southwest conference and festival came when she responded to a question from her friend Queen Latifah by crooning a few bars of the Motown weeper "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." The novelty of a first lady si

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

Morgane Stapleton is not a secret. In Nashville, the long-haired woman who's stood strong as a slender birch beside her husband, Chris, in breakthrough performances at the CMA Awards and on Saturday Night Life is known for being more than just a pristine harmonizer.

A certain musical and spiritual condition defines Wynonna Judd's first album with her band The Big Noise — not to mention the first album of original material in 13 years from one of country music's supreme redheads. That quality is joy. It dominates, not just because Judd is performing with a small group led by her husband, the drummer and producer Cactus Moser, letting loose on songs she hand-selected because she liked them rather than out of concern for padding her remarkable roster of hits.

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.

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