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.

First Listen
5:01 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

First Listen: Willie Nelson, 'Band Of Brothers'

Willie Nelson's new album, Band of Brothers, comes out June 17.
David McClister Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 12:33 pm

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.

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First Listen
6:43 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

First Listen: Jose James, 'While You Were Sleeping'

Jose James' new album, While You Were Sleeping, comes out June 10.
Janette Beckman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 12:13 pm

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.

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First Listen
4:02 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

First Listen: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, 'Dereconstructed'

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires' new album, Dereconstructed, comes out May 27.
Wes Frazer Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 12:08 pm

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.

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First Listen
5:42 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

First Listen: The Afghan Whigs, 'Do To The Beast'

The Afghan Whigs' new album, Do to the Beast, comes out April 15.
Piper Ferguson

Originally published on Tue April 15, 2014 3:27 pm

A lover's obsessiveness may charm at first, but it can soon turn frightening. For an artist, the relentless pursuit of one object — a sound, a memory dragged up and reshaped, a fantasy that makes the long hours of work feel intimate — feeds creativity or freezes it. Greg Dulli has been chasing the same seductive nightmare since he was 22, when his band The Afghan Whigs formed. Next year, he'll turn 50. He's spent a long time, in his mind, sitting in a darkened car in front of the same house.

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Arts + Life
1:27 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

The Guide To Making SXSW Fun (For Everybody)

Anything can happen in Austin. Be prepared.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Mon March 10, 2014 11:56 am

The last thing anyone would say about South By Southwest is that it's an avenue for self-improvement. The annual mega gathering, which began last week for film and interactive-technology mavens and turns into a music conference and festival tomorrow, fulfills many needs for the culture nerd. Communal bonding? Yes – somewhere around 100,000 people will wander the Austin streets looking to high-five each other during this time. Fun? For sure.

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Music
9:29 pm
Sat March 1, 2014

Listening In Reel Life: The Pop Music Inside The Oscar Nominees

Beautiful Music Together: Joaquin Phoenix takes a walk on the beach with his girlfriend the Operating System in the Oscar-nominated film Her.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Originally published on Sat March 1, 2014 9:54 am

The most romantic scene from any of this year's Oscar-nominated films begins with a deliciously idiosyncratic pickup line. At a swinger's pool party in 1978, a flabby yet still somehow alluring Christian Bale gently grabs the arm of Sydney Prosser, played by Amy Adams at her most wide-eyed and guileful. "Is that Duke Ellington on your bracelet?" he murmurs.

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Music
10:29 am
Mon October 28, 2013

What Lou Reed Taught Me

Lou Reed onstage in Amsterdam in 1975.
Gijsbert Hanekroot Redferns

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 10:57 am

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The Record
12:23 am
Fri September 13, 2013

'90s Nostalgia Revisited: 6 Musicians We Miss

P.M. Dawn, sometime in the '90s.
Mick Hutson Redferns

Originally published on Fri September 13, 2013 8:11 am

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Music
10:30 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

First Listen: Elvis Costello & The Roots, 'Wise Up Ghost'

Elvis Costello and The Roots' new album, Wise Up Ghost, comes out Sept. 17.
Danny Clinch Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 18, 2013 11:00 am

The new documentary Muscle Shoals recalls how interracial harmony in tumultuous times made possible a new kind of music. Leading African-American artists traveled to North Alabama — not exactly a place they thought they'd be welcome in the civil rights era — to jam with an all-white crew of session players. In little rooms near the wide Tennessee River, they perfected soul and anticipated Southern rock.

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First Listen
11:27 am
Sun September 1, 2013

First Listen: Bob Dylan, Highlights From 'Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)'

Bob Dylan in 1970, the year he released his 10th studio album, Self Portrait. A new collection, Another Self Portrait (1969-1971), comes out August 27.
John Cohen Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 4, 2013 8:09 am

If Bob Dylan's long career as a genius of the American spirit has taught us anything, it's that one fan's trash is another one's treasure. "I never looked at songs as 'good' or 'bad,' only different kinds of good ones," he once said. Dylan's music, from the magpie folk of his early years to the historically conscious balladry of his current albums, has always reminded us that our legacy includes not just ennobling beauty, but also minstrelsy, dirty blues, sentimental sappiness and rama-lama-ding-dong.

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First Listen
12:33 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

First Listen: The Julie Ruin, 'Run Fast'

The Julie Ruin's new album, Run Fast, comes out Sept. 3.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 4, 2013 8:11 am

Kathleen Hanna's voice shatters things — maybe glass, given the lung capacity behind her vibrating wail, but more importantly barriers and preconceptions. Her '90s band Bikini Kill helped revitalize both indie-rock and feminism; in that group and in Le Tigre, the beats-based trio that followed, Hanna created sounds and spaces that allowed women to feel free and full of themselves.

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Music
5:19 am
Thu June 6, 2013

Country Music's Year Of The Woman

Miranda Lambert performing in April at the Academy of Country Music Awards, where she won best song, best record and best female vocalist for the fourth year in a row. The Lambert Effect has opened doors for many of the new hopefuls blending hard country sounds with feminist-aware attitudes.
Kevin Winter/ACMA2013 Getty Images for ACM

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 6:41 am

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The Record
5:38 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Why Some Musicians Last

The singer Aaliyah, performing in 1998. Since her death in 2001, many singers have applied her soft, sexy vocal style to R&B, pop and indie hits.
Tim Mosenfelder Getty Images

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 12:53 pm

The mists of eternity wafted over my Twitter feed the other night. Okay, not quite — but talk of eternity, or at least of the pop scene in thirty years, did make for a lengthy and spirited group exchange. It started when a friend who's not fond of singing competitions asked whether Kelly Clarkson will be remembered in 2042.

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The Record
4:19 pm
Tue August 7, 2012

Antony's 'Future Feminism': Stage Banter As Statement Of Purpose

Antony performs in Oslo, Norway in 2011.
Jan Erik Svendsen Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:22 pm

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The Record
4:16 pm
Sun August 5, 2012

On Bob Dylan And Jonah Lehrer, Two Fabulists

Bob Dylan at a press conference at the Savoy Hotel in London in 1966.
Fiona Adams Redferns/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:24 pm

Yesterday my husband and I had the same thought at the same time. It's not an uncommon occurrence for two writers who've spent decades arguing and enthusing about pop music. I mention it, in part, to stave off accusations that I'm plagiarizing from a nearby source, but also because I think what we reflected upon in light of the writer Jonah Lehrer's fatal mistake was probably in the minds of many music obsessives.

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The Record
8:06 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

Springsteen's American Dream, Beautiful And Bleak

Bruce Springsteen onstage during the Born in the USA tour in 1985.
Richard E. Aaron Redferns

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:39 pm

I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen for his swagger. It was ridiculous and offered so much hope. Here was a bony dude with the worst haircut ever, who wore T-shirts covered in holes — seriously, he looked like the fry cook at the amusement park where I worked as a counter girl in the summer — making music as big as the known universe.

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The Record
5:29 pm
Thu May 17, 2012

The Many Voices Of Donna Summer

"Queen of Disco" Donna Summer performs in 1979. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Michael Ochs Archives Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:36 pm

Pop singer Donna Summer, whose long career began in the 1960s and reached its apex in the disco era of the '70s, died of cancer on Thursday at her home in Naples, Florida. Summer was 63 years old. According to Billboard magazine, the singer born LaDonna Gaines had 32 singles that charted in the Hot 100. Fourteen of them made it into the top 10. To hear Sami Yenigun's appreciation of Donna Summer's life and career, as heard on All Things Considered, click the audio link.

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The Record
9:15 pm
Sat February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston: Her Life Played Out Like An Opera

Whitney Houston performs in 1988.
David Corio Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:32 pm

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The Record
12:01 am
Thu February 9, 2012

Get To Know The Song Of The Year Nominees: Mumford And Sons' 'The Cave'

Mumford & Sons.
Courtesy of Billions

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:32 pm

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Mumford and Sons' "The Cave."

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The Record
12:00 am
Wed February 8, 2012

Get To Know The Song Of The Year Nominees: Bon Iver, 'Holocene'

Bon Iver in Fall Creek, Wisc., August 2010.
D.L. Anderson Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:31 pm

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Bon Iver's "Holocene."

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