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
11:03 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 June 22, 2015 5:06 pm

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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First Listen
10:03 am
Mon February 2, 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

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. Following it, Elvis and all the other rockabillies shambled their way toward coherence, made mistakes, got wild and kept tweaking country music and the blues until the sound hitting Sun's wooden walls turned new. 

  • Stream JD McPherson's new album on NPR.org.

 It's sad, then, that so many musicians who've tried to revive the Sun spirit reject spontaneity the way they'd turn down a Gap knock-off of an authentic vintage bowler's shirt. That's what makes JD McPherson stand out: Though his music honors mid-century sounds with laser precision, the Tulsa bomber takes so many little chances in his songs that they never sound like mere replicas. McPherson's first album, Signs & Signifiers, burned through the wall of its own references — to Elvis and Eddie Cochran, Little Richard and Big Joe Turner — on the strength of the singer's kerosene tenor and his band's masterful looseness. Working with a new producer, Mark Neill, on Let The Good Times Roll, McPherson goes one step further, finding that genre-defying mix that made early rock 'n' roll the sexiest thing on the radio.

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First Listen
11:03 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 9:41 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
11:03 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 2:18 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
12:53 pm
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 July 8, 2015 11:44 am

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First Listen
11:02 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 2:46 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
10:59 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 8:10 am

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The Record
2:41 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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World Cafe
12:47 pm
Fri January 2, 2015

World Cafe's 2015 Music Preview

JD McPherson is on Ann Powers's list of artists to watch in early 2015.
Jimmy Sutton / Courtesy of the artist

After all the time we've spent looking back at the best music of 2014, it is finally time to explore some of the releases we can look forward to over the first few months of 2015.

NPR Music's pop critic Ann Powers keeps her eyes on wide range of music; she helps us understand the middle and explore the edges. Her picks for the new year include songs from Oklahoma's retro-rocker JD McPherson, Seattle's female hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction and a brand new country duo from Nashville called Striking Matches

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