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
2:11 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Torres, 'Sprinter'

Torres.
Shawn Brackbill Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 2:58 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

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 Tue March 3, 2015 3:19 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
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 Tue February 10, 2015 4:20 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 Mon February 2, 2015 5:07 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
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 Wed February 4, 2015 10:18 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
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 Thu January 15, 2015 10:04 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
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 Wed February 4, 2015 10:21 am

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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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The Record
1:19 pm
Thu December 11, 2014

The Political Folk Song Of The Year

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Joshua Shoemaker Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 9:52 am

When Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff wrote the song "The Body Electric," she knew it would make its way into the world, and hoped its effects would be palpable. Horrified by the rapes that have made tragic news from India to America's college campuses, the singer-songwriter noticed that her own people — music makers and music lovers — would regularly sing along with choruses about killing women, comfortably accepting gender-based violence as part of the ballad tradition.

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First Listen
10:06 pm
Sun November 30, 2014

First Listen: 'When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936'

African-Americans on their way to church.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 9:43 am

In the history of American popular music, gospel is the great conveyor. People could hear it everywhere as the 20th century grew from infancy to adolescence: in churches, of course, but also on street corners, sung by wanderers whose guitar work and moaning vocals arose in dialogue with the blues; in factories and mines, where harmonizing quartets provided balm to frustrated workers; on the radio, where preachers and singers performed live to thousands of listeners; and through the new medium of recordings, which turned regional styles into national trends.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Lead Belly, 'I'm So Glad, I Done Got Over'

Portrait in New York, in Lead Belly's final days, 1948-49
Dr Richard S. Blacher

Originally published on Fri November 28, 2014 2:22 pm

In the new, comprehensive boxed set Lead Belly: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection, to be released in Feb. 24, 2015, the Smithsonian archivist Jeff Place reminds readers of the huge historical chunk of American music that the legendary singer and songwriter carried forward via his 12-string Stella guitar. "Lead Belly is often spoken of as the 'discovery' of folklorists, but in many ways he was a walking and singing collector of American folk songs in his own right," Place writes.

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The Record
2:52 pm
Mon November 24, 2014

Paramore Feat. Joy Williams, 'Hate To See Your Heart Break'

Hayley Williams (left) of Paramore and Joy Williams, formerly of The Civil Wars, perform together on a version of the song "Hate To See Your Heart Break" from the deluxe version of Paramore's self-titled album.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

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The Record
12:20 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

Nora Jane Struthers, 'The Same Road'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 10:22 am

Nora Jane Struthers is guided by fire. Coming up within the tradition-minded bluegrass world, she spent her youth in a family band with her father, a good daughter learning tradition. But since she's been leading her own band, the Party Line, Struthers has poured more and more emotion into her songwriting, coming up with some of the most quietly powerful narratives within the new wave of Americana artists.

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The Record
12:04 pm
Thu November 13, 2014

TV On The Radio And The Paradox Of The Midcareer Band

TV On The Radio's new album, its fifth, is titled Seeds.
JUCO Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu November 13, 2014 4:02 pm

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All Songs Considered
10:20 am
Mon November 10, 2014

Houndmouth, 'For No One'

Tyler Zoller Courtesy of the artist

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Songs We Love
12:06 pm
Thu November 6, 2014

Wild Moccasins, 'Eye Makeup'

Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 10:22 am

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