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.

"I wouldn't have pursued music but for trouble," Joni Mitchell once said. Mitchell was referring to real problems — her childhood time spent bedridden with polio and the life-shaping loss she experienced after giving her daughter up for adoption in 1965. Those events solidified the drive that pushed Mitchell forward from small-potatoes rural Canada toward the American meccas where she would prove to be the magnet shifting the needle of pop. But trouble, in all its manifestations, is also Mitchell's muse.

"I am a rap legend, just go ask the kings of rap," Nicki Minaj spat in her 2014 hit "Feelin' Myself," claiming her space within a rap patriarchy she altered simply by stepping a Manolo-clad toe into it. Beyoncé, her duet partner, expressed her power a different way. "Male or female, it make no difference," she declared. "I stop the world." These verses offer two different ways to think about artistic influence: one unfolds over time within a particular lineage; the other hits in the moment, altering the reality of everyone within earshot.

This week's batch of essential new albums includes Robyn's melancholy return to the dance floor, rock-and-roll madness from Ty Segall, the otherworldly voice of NAO, singer Julia Holter's mind-blowing masterpiece Aviary, and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they run through the best full-length releases out on Oct. 26.

Featured Albums:

  1. Oh Pep! I Wasn't Only Thinking of You
    Featured Song: "25"
  2. Robyn: Honey
    Featured Song: "Human Being"

Art needs to be preserved, but music thrives when it is replanted. Traditional styles grow differently depending on who cultivates them and where.

Some anniversaries are hard to celebrate. How should we greet the arrival of October, a year after the stories broke initiating the reckoning that soon became known as #MeToo? Since The New York Times and The New Yorker published their exposés — on Oct. 5 and Oct. 10 of last year, respectively — of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's long career as an alleged serial rapist, a new nationwide discussion has formed about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Often, this ongoing reckoning feels like not a dialogue, but a war.

The story of how Tanya Blount and Michael Trotter met, wooed, married and became The War and Treaty says so much about our present moment. She began her music career as a teenage R&B ingenue, navigating the ups and downs of the music industry with resilience and sharp wits.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

AMERICANAFEST just ended and we're back from Nashville with 10 thrilling tunes for you. The artists are, for the most part, emerging musicians who tackle this diverse genre from all angles.

Defining Americana isn't easy. At the festival, there were musicians from all around the world. Some were rooted in blues, jazz, boogie rock, bluegrass, soul, gospel, comedy, country, Tejano and much more.

The Reverend Al Green has long showed music lovers what it means to be blessed by the presence of a great voice. That is, Green's sporadic relationship with the music world beyond the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, where he's preached most Sundays since 1976, shows us in no uncertain terms that the person doing the blessing is the owner of the golden pipes fans cherish.

It's easy to love, worship and seek to emulate Joni Mitchell – but it's not so easy to pay proper tribute to her. That's why celebrations centered on her music are so fun. They challenge each performer, usually a besotted Joni devotee, to engage her tricky rhythms and find footing in her sometimes octave-jumping melodies; to parse her words — those phrases piercing through the particular into the universal — without slavishly imitating her Canadian cadences.

Prince is everything. Yes, I'm using a meme-ably meaningless phrase to describe the most fascinating artist to reign during my lifetime, but it's nearly factual for the Purple One: the intense reconsideration so many listeners have given his work since his death in April 2016 continues to reveal new facets of his genius and his work's cultural importance.

The world has been reminded of what the phrase "take me to church" really means. The musical offerings at Aretha Franklin's funeral showed the glory of gospel in its many forms, and saw secular performers placing themselves within the context of that fundamental American art form.

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

The Detroit Free Press issued a stern directive to fans and would-be Instagram influencers gathering this week to commemorate Aretha Franklin in her hometown. "Remember," admonished staffer (and occasional NPR contributor) Rochelle Riley in her Tuesday column, "We will treat this like church." No selfies are allowed with Franklin's gold-plated coffin, as she lay in repose at the Charles H.

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

On this week's show, All Songs Considered's Robin Hilton talks with Ann Powers, Marissa Lorusso and Sidney Madden about some of the greatest songs released by women and non-binary artists in the past 18 years.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NOEL KING, HOST:

We are heartbroken to report this morning that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has died at the age of 76 years old. Ann Powers is with me now. She's NPR's music critic and correspondent. Good morning, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

Aretha Franklin's voice is the voice of America. No other contemporary artist embodied the nation's brash optimism with as much flair, nor exemplified its sorrow-forged resilience as convincingly. No one better expressed American joy. Her murmurs gave shape to a sensuality that defeated repressive moral codes and replaced them with the commandments of tenderness, of sweet bitter love. Her high notes made hope happen. When she sang, we remembered that we could walk on the moon.

When Liz Cooper got her first guitar, it didn't help her social life. A high schooler who'd spent her early years as an athlete, Cooper fell in love with the instrument and spent hours in her room teaching herself to play in the intricate, looping fashion she still uses today. Cooper has gained a growing following in Nashville and beyond as one of the rock scene's most distinctive guitarists, with a style few can imitate.

On July 30, as part of our series Turning the Tables, NPR Music published a list of the 200 greatest songs made by women and non-binary musicians who debuted on or after Jan. 1, 2000. Today, Ann Powers examines that list's immediate forebears: artists whose careers began in the late 1990s but whose influence carried well into the 21st century.

Birdtalker's music arises at the point where intimate exchange connects with community. Zack and Dani Green were a newly married couple when, one afternoon, the guitarist and singer asked his spouse for input on a song he was writing.

Southern friendship is all about porches. The craftsman cottages of East Nashville were designed for afternoon sweet tea and guitar picking with the perfume of whatever's on the smoker (these days, it's as likely to be tofu as hog) wafting by. Bars like Mickey's on Gallatin Pike have great porches, too — a famous local might come in for a cold beer and leave hours later in a new super group.

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

R.LUM.R is all about 'framily.' That's the word — a mix of friends and family — that Reggie Williams, who records under the all-caps moniker, uses to describe the tight network he's created as he has established himself as a star on the streaming pop charts. This is how pop artists rise in the South beyond the nerve center of Atlanta: They work together across genres and become masters of the internet.

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

Ashley Campbell's singing voice is sweet and a little sly, suggesting that she knows a listener might underestimate her and she's about to prove them foolish. There's no reason to low-ball the potential of a woman who has perfected the arts of both banjo picking and improv comedy, but Campbell is a young woman and the daughter of a famous man — two facts that, for artists, can lead to surface judgments.

On the day we talked to him, Joshua Hedley came into the studio with a cold; he was all apologies and sniffles, a cough chasing his hello. Yet when the longtime Nashville favorite entered the recording booth, a seeming miracle occurred. His trademark tenor emerged clean, warm, and on point, rounding out each note beautifully within his classic country songs.

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

Pages