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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First Listen
10:30 pm
Sun April 26, 2015

First Listen: Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

Chris Stapleton's new album, Traveller, comes out May 4.
Becky Fluke Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

Even the most seemingly organic contemporary country albums — the ones by often-awarded "authentic" artists like Miranda Lambert and Eric Church — can sometimes show evidence of a checklist.

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The Record
11:16 am
Tue April 14, 2015

Spirit Family Reunion's Unbroken Circle

Brooklyn's Spirit Family Reunion released its new album, Hands Together, on Tuesday.
James Weinheimer Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 12:40 pm

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 12, 2015

Review: Alabama Shakes, 'Sound & Color'

The Alabama Shakes' new album, Sound & Color, comes out April 21.
Brantley Gutierrez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 10:27 am

In the six years I've lived in the region, I've developed a mantra: Southern freaks are the best freaks. For me, the word "freak" can be both positive and downright spiritual. It describes serious individualists who are tolerant of others whose own paths may diverge from their own; people whose ways of thinking connect to form an antidote to the deep conventionality that often surrounds them.

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All Songs TV
8:34 am
Wed April 8, 2015

John Moreland, 'Cherokee'

John Moreland.
Kris Payne Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 12:42 pm

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All Songs TV
11:00 am
Mon April 6, 2015

Anderson East, 'Satisfy Me'

Anderson East.
Courtesy of the artist

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 5, 2015

Review: Dwight Yoakam, 'Second Hand Heart'

Dwight Yoakam's new album, Second Hand Heart, comes out April 14.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 14, 2015 10:56 am

When Dwight Yoakam was making his first demos in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, a producer told him that his sound was "so hillbilly, they're going to call it rock 'n' roll." He was pointing to both the rawness in the Kentucky native's sound and its wicked precision, grounded in the great virtuoso art of bluegrass; and the depth of lyrics balancing the plainspokenness of Ohio Valley people who raised him and their eloquence, born of Bible reading and family-transmitted ballads and tales. "I've done a lot of miles on hillbilly highways.

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All Songs Considered
12:33 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

The National, 'Sunshine On My Back'

Dierdre O'Callaghan Courtesy of the Artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 12:44 pm

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The Record
11:50 am
Wed April 1, 2015

How To Be Alone: Musicians Confront Solitude

Sufjan Stevens' album Carrie & Lowell is out this week.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 12:15 pm

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Songs We Love
2:11 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Torres' 'Sprinter' Is A Portrait Of Potential Running Wild

Torres.
Shawn Brackbill Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 1:09 pm

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
10:22 am
Tue March 17, 2015

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

Matt Barnes Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 2:40 pm

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
7:03 am
Wed March 11, 2015

Benjamin Booker Faces The Past

David Goldman Courtesy of the artist

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Songs We Love
2:51 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

Banditos, 'Cry Baby Cry'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 3:40 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
9:21 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 3:17 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
10:03 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 1:16 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
2:56 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Alabama Shakes, 'Don't Wanna Fight'

Alabama Shakes.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 3:30 pm

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First Listen
10:03 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 10:31 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
10:32 am
Mon February 2, 2015

Leon Bridges, 'Coming Home'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 8, 2015 3:28 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
10:03 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 8:41 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
10:03 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 1:18 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
11:53 am
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 10:16 am

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All Songs TV
7:03 am
Mon January 26, 2015

Andrew Combs, 'Nothing To Lose'

Andrew Combs.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 3:52 pm

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
10:02 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 1:46 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
12:11 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 6:35 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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The Record
9:59 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 7:10 am

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Songs We Love
9:26 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 Wed April 8, 2015 3:12 pm

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
1:41 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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The Record
10:58 am
Tue December 16, 2014

Listen To 'The Eye,' A New Song By Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile's fifth studio album, The Firewatcher's Daughter, will be out on March 3.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu April 9, 2015 4:10 pm

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The Record
9:43 am
Fri December 12, 2014

In 2014, Pop Followed Beyonce's Lead

Beyonce's performance during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards in August included clips of a speech about feminism by author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Kevin Winter/MTV1415 Getty Images for MTV

Originally published on Tue January 6, 2015 6:28 pm

2014 was a divisive time in popular music, with no single album or song seeming to capture the year's mood and no trend pointing clearly toward the future. But most music lovers could agree on one thing: Beyoncé was flawless. The 33-year-old powerhouse set every standard by which pop music and celebrity are judged.

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