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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Songs We Love
3:58 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Torres, 'Sprinter'

Torres.
Shawn Brackbill Courtesy of the artist

Walk America's motor-mown playing fields on a Sunday afternoon, past baseball diamonds that look like half-hewn crop circles and running tracks cut in dirt or clay. See the swarms of children neatening themselves into game formations, each one trying to tamp down nervous energy and make her talent behave. Skinny legs protrude from nylon shorts quickly pulled on after the church clothes come off. Mothers sit and knit on the sidelines in collapsible chairs. Fathers stand, ready to go to the snack bar or sneak a cooler beer; ready to yell. This is fun?

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Songs We Love
10:49 am
Tue March 17, 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie, 'It's My Way'

Matt Barnes Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 17, 2015 11:22 am

Sometimes the simplest declarations echo most forcefully through time. Repeated, growing and shifting to fit different contexts, phrases like I am somebody or give peace a chance or fight the power define and support the core experience of being human. So much can be communicated in just three or four words: self-respect; the connection between individual freedom and communal well-being; the determination to survive even in hard times; undying hope.

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The Record
8:03 am
Wed March 11, 2015

Benjamin Booker Faces The Past

David Goldman Courtesy of the artist

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Songs We Love
3:32 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

Banditos, 'Cry Baby Cry'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 3, 2015 4:19 pm

On the cover of its soon-to-be released Bloodshot Records debut album, the rock and roll marauders in Banditos are relaxing on an American flag. The huge banner makes up the floor and walls of a makeshift living room, where the group lounges in voluminous hair, hats and, on drummer Randy Wade, a motorcycle helmet. It looks like Banditos is waiting backstage at the club in at the end of the roots-rock universe.

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The Record
10:21 am
Sat February 28, 2015

Sympathy For The Devils

Josh Tillman's latest album as Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear, is a sincere and shocking catalog of the main character's adventures in sex and love.
Emma Tillman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat February 28, 2015 4:17 pm

It's been five years since Kanye West raised his glass to "the a--holes" in the song "Runaway," a poetic taxonomy of bad behavior that formed the emotional center of his masterwork My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It's a sad song about romantic failure, but also a strong statement connecting West to popular music's longstanding practice of being dangerously outrageous.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun February 22, 2015

First Listen: Andrew Combs, 'All These Dreams'

Andrew Combs' new album, All These Dreams, comes out March 3.
Melissa Madison Fuller Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 3, 2015 2:16 pm

It ain't easy being genteel. Refinement goes against the grain of both rock 'n' roll and Top 40 pop: The former's deliberately confrontational history and the latter's need to hook the masses make it hard to cultivate a sense of balance. Indie-rock fans tend to prefer a rough edge or a weird weft in their songs, in part to prove that the makers aren't capitulating to someone else's standards. Even singer-songwriters, the designated introverts of the music world, spin dramatic, even gothic tales when they want to hush a room.

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Songs We Love
1:03 pm
Tue February 17, 2015

Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

Becky Fluke Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 7:00 am

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Songs We Love
3:56 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Alabama Shakes, 'Don't Wanna Fight'

Alabama Shakes.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 5:20 pm

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun February 8, 2015

First Listen: The Mavericks, 'Mono'

The Mavericks' new album, Mono, comes out Feb. 17.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 11:31 am

In his rockabilly history Go Cat Go!, ethnomusicologist Craig Morrison describes the typical cradle of rock 'n' roll: a community hall reconfigured to serve as a nightclub for a night. "There might be Christmas lights strung across the back of the stage, tables and chairs around the perimeter of the room, food available for purchase, and maybe booze," Morrison writes. A jittery, ambitious band plays as loudly as possible, in order to be heard over the din of all the flirting, fighting and dancing.

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Songs We Love
11:32 am
Mon February 2, 2015

Leon Bridges, 'Coming Home'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon February 2, 2015 6:07 pm

"There was just nobody doing it," 25-year-old Fort Worth wonder Leon Bridges recently told a hometown reporter of his decision to pursue the sound of 1960 in his rhythm and blues. It seems like a strange comment, especially when you hear "Coming Home," one of two songs that have propelled the former college dance major from coffeehouses to a major-label record deal in less than six months.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun February 1, 2015

First Listen: Rhiannon Giddens, 'Tomorrow Is My Turn'

Rhiannon Giddens' new album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, comes out Feb. 10.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 9:41 am

What does it take for a work of art to become an intervention? In music, any reinterpretation alters the original, if only because different fingerprints touch it. But certain lineages — folk music, for example — are built on the bones of those retellings. Whoever owns a song for a period of time connects it to her lived experience and the world in which she lives, and it changes. It might also change the world, or a small part of it.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun February 1, 2015

First Listen: JD McPherson, 'Let The Good Times Roll'

JD McPherson's new album, Let The Good Times Roll, comes out Feb. 10.
Jim Herrington Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 2:18 pm

Two stretched concepts made the rock 'n' roll coming out of Sun Studios in the 1950s unlike other music of its kind: time and space. In a shabby little room near downtown Memphis, Sam Phillips gave the men and kids he recorded all the room in the world. "Spontaneity" was Phillips' mantra, which was particularly potent for the youngest Sun cats.

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The Record
12:53 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

From The Isleys To Aaliyah To Frank Ocean, The Evolution Of 'Love'

Frank Ocean released an Aaliyah tribute, "At Your Best (You Are Love)," on the late R&B singer's birthday.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:16 am

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All Songs TV
8:03 am
Mon January 26, 2015

Andrew Combs, 'Nothing To Lose'

Andrew Combs.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 11:18 am

For any young artist, an important leap happens when influences are absorbed and the act of mining the past transforms into something personal. That's what happens on All These Dreams, the second album from the singer-songwriter Andrew Combs, to be released in the U.S. in early March.

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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 25, 2015

First Listen: Diana Krall, 'Wallflower'

Diana Krall's new album, Wallflower, comes out Feb. 3.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 3, 2015 2:46 pm

In the 1970s, when Diana Krall was growing up, children and young adolescents regularly encountered very adult music on Top 40 radio. These songs were different from the sexually explicit playground rhymes so common in mainstream music today.

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The Record
1:11 pm
Wed January 21, 2015

Bjork's 'Vulnicura': An Inquiry Into Melodrama

Bjork.
Courtesy of Sacks and Co.

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 7:35 pm

What the Icelandic art star Bjork has accomplished at the intersection of pop and the avant-garde cannot be summed up in one detail, but one thing to focus on is the way she sings the word "emotional." Climbing it like one of the cliffs she often evokes in her pastoral lyrics, she lets it open up like a vista on its central, circulatory "o." The word becomes a Valkyrie's cry, a statement of purpose both sacred and humanly thrilling.

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Songs We Love
2:49 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

The Deslondes, 'Fought The Blues And Won'

Sam Doores (right) and the rest of his new band, the Deslondes.
Courtesy of the artist

What does it mean to be a wandering troubadour in 2014? Believe it or not, sometimes it means riding the rails, just like in the old days. Sam Doores spent a restless childhood traveling with his family between San Francisco, Washington and Texas; his mother's copy of Woody Guthrie's book Bound For Glory convinced him to try the life of a modern-day hobo, eventually settling in New Orleans. The sound he's cultivated with his bandmates in The Deslondes is streaked with history's dust.

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The Record
10:59 am
Thu January 15, 2015

How One Of Gospel's Essential Songs Gave 'Selma' Its Soul

David Oyelowo (left) as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King in Selma.
Atsushi Nishijima Paramount Pictures

Originally published on Fri February 20, 2015 8:10 am

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Songs We Love
10:26 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, 'Whenever You See Me'

The sibling trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis.
Dean Chalkley Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 11:04 am

When Daisy Durham tells the skirt-chaser in her path to "Think about where you put that hand" in this tough-spirited, joyfully punchy musical kiss-off, she has a girl gang's worth of rock 'n' roll predecessors to back her up. Daisy's on-the-corner vocals, doubled by her sister Kitty, recall outer-borough demolition dolls like the Shangri-La's, the Bobbettes and the Angels.

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The Record
2:41 pm
Wed January 7, 2015

Musicians You'll Tell Your Friends About In 2015

Austin-based Charlie Belle, led by 16-year-old Jendayi Bonds (center) along with her brother Gyasi Bonds (left) and Zoe Czarnecki, will release a debut EP on Jan. 13.
Barclay Ice & Coal Courtesy of the artist

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