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.

American music festivals used to be mostly a summer thing, but in many ways they now frame the concert experience all year round. In these temporary hot spots for pleasure and cultural conversation, new artists emerge as sensations and established ones do special things with fans. Culture watchers note fashion trends and predict whose careers will rise and fall by observing what emerges from festivals' impromptu communities.

When Willie Nelson was a young hustler selling songs to Patsy Cline's people, he probably never thought he'd become the crowd-anointed sage of country music. But that's what happened as the Redheaded Stranger went gray, turned smoking weed into a brand and a virtue, and produced a discography that added up to its own American Songbook.

Pop stars are the ideal companions of their fans' daydreams, speaking their most romantic hopes and defiant declarations through the songs on the Top 40. Miranda Lambert, however, is the kind of friend who's not going to take anybody's bull. As country's most lauded million-selling artist, beloved by everyday listeners and critics alike, Lambert has crafted a body of work grounded in the realism of muscle, flesh and heart.

When the spirit of Nirvana surfaces in a song, the artist paying tribute almost always shares style points with that treasured band. The hair is shaggy, the clothes a little ragged; the lineage unfolds, relatively neatly, from punk to the present.

In north central Alabama, punk rockers often know as much about football as they do mosh pits. A guy with an arm-sleeve tattoo will open the door for a woman and call her "ma'am." Self-identifying as a blue dot in a red state doesn't preclude Sunday brunch with relatives whose own cars boast confederate-flag stickers. Such differences can arise anywhere, but they can feel more pressing in the Deep South, where history is sticky, like a 90-degree rainy day, and intimate, like Grandma's questionable advice.

Why Tori Amos Connects

May 13, 2014

When I spent time on tour with Tori Amos a decade ago, collaborating with her on a book, I'd see her invoke the four elements many nights before her band would take the stage.

In 1963, Alabama was culturally closer to Brooklyn than it is now. The Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South created enclaves in cities all over the country, and the Civil Rights movement trained the eyes of the North on cities like Birmingham. Alabama native Naomi Shelton came to Brooklyn that year with the gospel in her heart and soul music turning her head. She found a place to sing, a bar on Flatbush Avenue, and a musical partner in keyboardist Cliff Driver. Flatbush Avenue rang out with the sound of her Southern blend of grace and grit.

Pop songs abound with fully loaded phrases disguised as harmless lyrical hooks. Here's one: work it.

In 2007, the Canadian music critic Carl Wilson published a book-length experiment in extreme aesthetic sport: a sincere and shockingly comprehensive study of music he had already decided he hated. That book, Let's Talk About Love, named for the Celine Dion album it studied, has become a cornerstone text in the school of criticism known as "poptimism," because it treats seemingly disposable pop music as worthy of serious thought.

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