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
10:37 am
Thu October 30, 2014

Wade Bowen, 'Long Enough To Be A Memory'

Wade Bowen's song "Long Enough To Be A Memory" is a favorite of NPR music critic Ann Powers.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 30, 2014 11:46 am

Right now, I'm sitting in a hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, eating a cheeseburger and listening to Texas country troubadour Wade Bowen's melancholy ballad about learning to make wherever you hang your hat your home. Like so many people trying to get and stay ahead, I travel for my work — not as much as the weathered but optimistic journeyman of "Long Enough To Be A Memory," but enough to relate to his sense of dislocation and his hope that maybe he'll finally stick in one place.

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All Songs TV
2:36 pm
Thu October 23, 2014

Fly Golden Eagle: 'Stepping Stone'

The members of Fly Golden Eagle, in a scene from their new video for the song "Stepping Stone."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun October 26, 2014 5:25 pm

Making music in a band is always and experiment. The players throw different elements into the enzymatic mix, let it all bubble together, and come up with a new compound every time. Recording these interactions for something as self-promotional as a music video can feel intrusive, like freezing something volatile. But a creative team can have fun with this awkward encounter.

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The Record
10:03 am
Thu October 16, 2014

Hear Two Songs From Duncan Sheik's Next Album

Duncan Sheik's seventh album, Legerdemain, will come out in 2015.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 16, 2014 12:15 pm

In April 2015, Duncan Sheik, a songwriter who has had hits on both pop radio and the Broadway stage, will release Legerdemain, his first album of original material since 2009's Whisper House and the first not connected to a theater piece since 2006's White Limousine. Sheik crafted the album in his Garrison, N.Y. studio, and he's sharing two songs from that album via NPR Music; you can listen and download both of them below.

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All Songs TV
10:48 am
Tue October 14, 2014

Steelism, 'Marfa Lights'

YouTube

Originally published on Sun October 26, 2014 5:26 pm

The Nashville instrumental group Steelism stands out for its ability to blend vintage styles — steel-guitar jazz, surf rock, the cool vibe of 1960s movie soundtracks — in ways that don't feel dated. Steelism's playfulness, embodied in the easy dialogues between guitarists Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum, Jr., freshens up everything its touches.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun October 12, 2014

First Listen: Neil Diamond, 'Melody Road'

Neil Diamond's new album, Melody Road, comes out Oct. 21.
Micah Diamond Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 10:54 am

In 1989, the producer Don Was approached Neil Diamond about making a record. "'I called [him] and said, 'Neil, I think you're a rock 'n' roll artist, but you lost your way, and I know how to make it right,' " Was told a reporter in 2013. The two went into the studio but only ended up with one song that has been released. Was had discovered that Diamond was anything but lost.

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The Record
11:42 am
Wed October 8, 2014

The Dream Of Ridiculous Men

The music on U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, reaches back toward the moment when the band was first building an audience.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu October 9, 2014 12:54 pm

The last short story Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote is about being seriously ridiculous. In "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," an intellectual prone to existentialist despair is saved from suicide when, in a vision, he discovers a parallel planet where humanity has never sinned. "It was like being in love with each other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling," he tells the reader. This contact with Eden reinvigorates him, but then, during a playful moment, he teaches the planet's innocents how to deceive each other — and this leads to a catastrophic, Biblical fall.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun October 5, 2014

First Listen: Angaleena Presley, 'American Middle Class'

Angaleena Presley's new album, American Middle Class, comes out Oct. 14.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 11:45 am

The temptation when confronting a serious problem is to either cry it out or laugh it off. This is true in country music, as in life. Even the greatest songs about heavy subjects either diffuse the tension with jokes or go entirely maudlin, providing catharsis without true clarity. Angaleena Presley, though, tackles the hard stuff head on.

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The Record
11:17 am
Wed September 24, 2014

Roots, Plugged In

Jonah Tolchin performs at Grimey's in Nashville during the Americana Music Festival on Sept. 20.
Erika Goldring Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 25, 2014 11:10 am

When I put Jonah Tolchin's performance at Third Man Records on my schedule for Americana Fest, the annual gathering of roots-minded musicians that took over Nashville last week, I thought I was going to see a young artist playing old-timey music. Earlier this year, the 22-year-old New Jerseyite released an album, Clover Lane, that gently ranges from countryish ballads to uptempo numbers with a country blues feel.

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First Listen
12:03 am
Mon September 15, 2014

First Listen: Leonard Cohen, 'Popular Problems'

Leonard Cohen's new album, Popular Problems, comes out Sept. 23.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 24, 2014 10:41 am

Leonard Cohen is not a man for manifestos. Peripatetic bohemian, Montreal native, Zen meditator, diaspora Jew: Rock's almost-octogenarian philosopher emeritus inhabits identities that are multiple, contested, and resistant to orthodoxy. He is, however, willing to lay some things on the line. "I'm slowing down the tune, I never liked it fast," he intones over a burlesque blues line in the first track on his 13th studio album, Popular Problems. "You want to get there soon; I want to get there last."

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The Record
9:00 am
Thu September 11, 2014

An Emerging Voice Of Americana (And Oklahoma)

Samantha Lamb Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu September 11, 2014 1:50 pm

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The Record
3:35 am
Wed August 20, 2014

Taylor Swift Aims For Pop's Throne

A still from the video for "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.
YouTube

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 11:52 am

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The Record
9:34 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Top 40 In A Summer Of Discontent

A still from the video for "Am I Wrong" by Nico & Vinz.
YouTube

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 12:54 pm

To hear Ann Powers talk with NPR's Audie Cornish about some of the songs that might define the troubling summer of 2014, click the audio link on this page.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 17, 2014

First Listen: Shovels & Rope, 'Swimmin' Time'

Shovels & Rope's new album, Swimmin' Time, comes out Aug. 26.
Leslie Ryan McKellar Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 2:58 pm

It's easy to feel the romance in the musical relationship between Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 10, 2014

First Listen: Imogen Heap, 'Sparks'

Imogen Heap's new album, Sparks, comes out Aug. 19.
Jeremy Cowart Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 12:15 pm

"What does the story hold?" Imogen Heap sings tenderly and slightly quizzically in "Propeller Seeds," the closing track on her fourth solo album, Sparks. The English singer, songwriter and tech pioneer has taken three years to shape 14 songs that answer her question in utterly distinctive ways.

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First Listen
11:14 pm
Sun August 3, 2014

First Listen: Sinead O'Connor, 'I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss'

Sinead O'Connor's new album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss, comes out Aug. 12.
Donal Moloney Courtesy of the artist

As a songwriter, Sinead O'Connor connects her own life story to forces both historical and cosmic. Her 1987 debut, The Lion and the Cobra, included songs that challenged Ireland's favorite folk tales and tackled the legacy of Irish poet William Butler Yeats next to songs expressing post-adolescent lust and hesitancy about the singer's impending fame.

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The Record
11:34 am
Tue July 29, 2014

East Nashville Rocks

Andrija Tokic in his East Nashville studio, The Bomb Shelter.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

How do you know you are in East Nashville? Follow the beards, a current joker might say. If you do, you'll find yourself in an area tucked in between Nashville's neat downtown and the city's eastern edge, separated from each by the twisting Cumberland River. To the west, tourists flock to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Ryman Auditorium — the "Mother Church of Country Music." The Opryland complex — the venerable stage and radio show's comfortably suburban home since 1974 — is to the east, where the city sprawls into malls, hotels and tourists attractions.

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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 Mon July 28, 2014 11:14 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 Wed July 30, 2014 9:02 pm

"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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