Ken Tucker

Ken Tucker is the pop music critic for Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

He also serves as editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, where his previous work netted him two National Magazine Awards.

Previously a film critic at New York magazine, Tucker's music criticism earned him two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards one in 2003 and the other in 2004.

Tucker is the author of Scarface Nation: The Ultimate Gangster Movie and Roasting Miss Piggy: 100 Things to Love and Hate About Television.



Tue March 19, 2013
Music Reviews

Justin Timberlake Returns To Music With Enthusiasm And 'Experience'

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 10:03 am

The 20/20 Experience is Justin Timberlake's first album since 2006.
Tom Monro RCA

The orchestral swirls, the transition to a soul-man groove, the falsetto croon — there you have some of the key elements to Justin Timberlake's album The 20/20 Experience. The title implies a certain clarity of vision, even as any given song presents the singer as a starry-eyed romantic, bedazzled by a woman upon whom he cannot heap enough compliments, come-ons and seductive playfulness.

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Mon March 11, 2013
Music Reviews

Tegan And Sara Reach Out To New Audiences With 'Heartthrob'

Originally published on Mon March 11, 2013 6:06 pm

Twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin have been writing songs since they were 15 and independently released their first full-length album in 1999. Since then, they've produced seven studio albums.
Courtesy of the artist


Thu March 7, 2013
Music Reviews

David Bowie Awakens To 'The Next Day' Of His Career

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 3:30 pm

After a 10-year hiatus, David Bowie has just returned with The Next Day.
Courtesy of the artist


Tue March 5, 2013
Music Reviews

Ashley Monroe Is 'Like A Rose,' Briars And All

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 2:14 pm

Jim Wright Warner Nashville

The high lonesome sound of Ashley Monroe's Tennessee voice in "Like a Rose" serves as a clear signal that she's working within a tradition that extends back well beyond her twentysomething years on Earth. One of Monroe's collaborators in that song was Guy Clark, a seventysomething Texas country veteran who's often too tough-guy romantic for his own good.

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Mon February 25, 2013
Music Reviews

Guards: Anthems With Gravitas

Originally published on Mon February 25, 2013 1:38 pm

Guards just released its debut album, In Guards We Trust.
Olivia Malone Courtesy of the artist


Thu February 14, 2013
Music Reviews

Richard Thompson's New Album Examines 'Electric' Love

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 1:23 pm

Richard Thompson's new album is titled Electric.
Pamela Littky Courtesy of the artist

Delicate phrasing, with both voice and guitar, has always made Richard Thompson a musician worth hearing — and sometimes even liking on a personal level. For a man who can make such pretty music, it's to his credit that he prefers to show his thorny, stubborn, cranky, even mean side in many of the songs in his solo career.

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Wed January 9, 2013
Music Reviews

'Nashville' Soundtrack Stands On Its Own

Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 2:08 pm

Connie Britton (pictured) and Hayden Panetierre star as country singers of different generations on the ABC series Nashville.
Courtesy of ABC

"Telescope," the fictional hit single by the fictional country star Juliette Barnes on Nashville, is sung by the actress who plays Juliette, Hayden Panetierre. If it didn't become a real-life hit when the song was released a few months ago to country radio stations, it wasn't for lack of catchiness, courtesy of producers T-Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller.

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Tue December 18, 2012
Best Music Of 2012

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2012

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 9:25 pm

Dan Monick


Wed December 12, 2012
Music Reviews

Ke$ha: A 'Warrior' In Search Of Legitimacy

Originally published on Wed December 12, 2012 4:53 pm

Ke$ha's new album is titled Warrior.
Yu Tsai Courtesy of the artist

Ke$ha uses a dollar-sign instead of an "s" in the middle of her stage name. It's one of those gestures that's meant to bait her detractors — suggesting before anyone else does that she's only in it for the money. It turns out, though, that like pop stars ranging from Madonna on back to Chuck Berry, Ke$ha wants it both ways: mass-audience success and artistic acknowledgment. For Ke$ha, that's what her album title Warrior means: She's fighting a war on multiple fronts.

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Fri November 30, 2012
Music Reviews

Tracey Thorn: 'Secular Carols' For The Holidays

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 2:24 pm

Tracey Thorn, famous for her work in Everything but the Girl, has a new solo album of seasonal tunes called Tinsel and Lights.
Edward Bishop Courtesy of the artist

Tracey Thorn's interpretation of "Maybe This Christmas," by the Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, is typical of her new holiday album, Tinsel and Lights: It's simply arranged, emphasizing Thorn's lovely, delicate voice and bolstered by a firm intelligence; it avoids the fatty treacle that weighs down lots of Christmas albums. Tinsel and Lights mixes familiar songs with new ones, such as the title song written by Thorn.

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Wed November 28, 2012
Music Reviews

'Buddy And Jim': Friends In Life And Songwriting

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 6:04 pm

Musicians and friends Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale team up on a new album of country duets called Buddy and Jim.
Michael Wilson photo/Paul Moore design Courtesy of the artist

Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale are singer-songwriters who've each written hits for country and rock acts, and have enjoyed extensive solo careers as performers and producers. Buddy and Jim is their first collaboration, a mixture of original songs and covers from earlier decades of country, rock, folk and soul music.

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Wed November 14, 2012
Music Reviews

An Unlikely Tribute: Jamey Johnson Covers Hank Cochran

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 5:41 pm

Jamey Johnson's new album pays tribute to songwriter Hank Cochran.
Courtesy of the artist

Jamey Johnson, one of the most popular country singers of recent years, has just released an album titled Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran.

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Fri November 9, 2012
Music Reviews

Cody ChesnuTT Contains A Universe On 'Hundred'

Originally published on Fri November 9, 2012 1:52 pm

Cody ChesnuTT is the best sort of egomaniac: On Landing on a Hundred, he's preachy but delightful.
Courtesy of the artist

Cody ChesnuTT is the best sort of egomaniac. He places himself at the center of his musical universe; he contains that universe within him. On his new album, Landing on a Hundred, he sings one song in the voice of the entire continent of Africa.

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Mon November 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Taylor Swift Leaps Into Pop With 'Red'

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 5:44 pm

Taylor Swift's Red challenges her diehard fans while inviting naysayers to give her music another try.
Courtesy of the artist


Fri October 19, 2012
Music Reviews

Gary Clark Jr.: A Raucous Blues Shout

Originally published on Fri October 19, 2012 10:49 pm

Gary Clark Jr.'s Blak and Blu is an eclectic romp through the blues.
Frank Maddocks

On his major-label debut Blak and Blu, you can hear the roar in Gary Clark Jr.'s blues guitar, and in his vocal throughout "Bright Lights." It's one of the few straight-up blues songs on what is essentially an introduction to one of the most highly praised young blues guitarists in recent times. While Clark comes out of a blues tradition, he's also a twentysomething who's taken in all of contemporary music.

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Wed October 10, 2012
Music Reviews

Iris DeMent's Emotionally Complex 'Sing The Delta'

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:21 pm

Sing the Delta is Iris DeMent's first album of new songs in 16 years.
Courtesy of the artist

Iris DeMent possesses one of the great voices in contemporary popular music: powerfully, ringingly clear, capable of both heartbreaking fragility and blow-your-ears-back power. Had she been making country albums in the '70s and '80s and had more commercial ambition, she'd probably now be considered right up there with Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

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Wed October 3, 2012
Music Reviews

Low Cut Connie: The Self-Deprecating Bar Band

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 9:47 am

Low Cut Connie's Call Me Sylvia is as raucous as its debut, though it's a bit more self-conscious.
Courtesy of the artist

Low Cut Connie is one of an increasingly rare breed: a party band, a bar band, a band with a sense of rock 'n' roll history that isn't weighed down by nostalgia or the foolish feeling that music was better way back when. Positive fellows, for the most part, even when they're in their cups, these guys "say yes," as the title of one song goes, to a life in music. Oh, and they're also trying to get women to say yes to their craven come-ons.

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Mon September 24, 2012
Music Reviews

Aimee Mann: The 'Charmer' And The Disciplined Id

Originally published on Mon September 24, 2012 2:16 pm

Ken Tucker says Aimee Mann's latest album, Charmer, is a song cycle about getting rid of a cynical frame of mind.
Sheryl Nields

If you listen to the music on Charmer, hearing Aimee Mann's vocals as just another lilting instrument, you'd probably think the album was just what the title suggests: a charmer. The melodies have an airy quality, at once floating and propulsive, and even without fixing on the words, you can hear that they're metrically precise, with carefully counted-out syllables and tight rhymes.

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Wed September 19, 2012
Music Reviews

Dwight Yoakam: Weary And Wary On '3 Pears'

Originally published on Fri December 14, 2012 5:06 pm

Dwight Yoakam recently released his new record, titled 3 Pears.
Courtesy of the artist

Dwight Yoakam persists in mixing genres in a way that may leave him out of the country mainstream, but puts him in a good position to make a personal album with some of his best music.

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Tue September 11, 2012
Music Reviews

Bob Dylan's Baffling And Sometimes Beautiful 'Tempest'

Originally published on Tue September 11, 2012 2:48 pm

Bob Dylan's Tempest features 10 new songs with many feisty, baffling, sometimes beautiful moments.
Courtesy of the artist

Bob Dylan made the rare mistake of talking about his creative process shortly before the release of Tempest. He told Rolling Stone that he'd originally wanted to write a collection of what he called "religious songs," saying, "That takes a lot more concentration to pull that off — 10 times with the same thread than it does with a record like I ended up with." Which means that either his powers of concentration failed him, or he became distracted by other themes, topics and moods.

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Tue September 4, 2012
Music Reviews

When Ian Hunter Is 'President'

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 3:54 pm

Ian Hunter once is at once crafty and mindful of craft, striving mightily to make his music seem tossed off.
Ross Halfin

Recently, I was listening to a new tribute album covering the songs of Fleetwood Mac, and thought once again how dreadful most tribute albums are: They don't add much to the legacy of the artists being saluted, while inadvertently freezing vital old music in an amber of sentimentality. Then I turned to When I'm President, an album of new songs by Ian Hunter.

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Fri August 31, 2012
Music Reviews

Shoes: After 18 Years, The Power-Pop Band Re-Ignites

Originally published on Fri August 31, 2012 4:16 pm

Courtesy of the artist


Mon August 6, 2012
Music Reviews

Dan Auerbach Likes It Fast, Simple And Loud

Originally published on Mon August 6, 2012 1:23 pm

Producer Dan Auerbach achieves an ideal version of JEFF The Brotherhood and Hacienda on their respective new albums.
James Quine

Dan Auerbach, one of two founders of The Black Keys, also maintains an active side business as a producer for other bands that share his love for blues- and country-influenced rock. Auerbach's production work can be heard on two new records: Hacienda's third album, Shakedown, and the major-label debut of JEFF The Brotherhood, titled Hypnotic Nights.

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Mon July 30, 2012
Music Reviews

This Time, R. Kelly Burns With (Relatively Chaste) Passion

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 4:56 pm

RCA Music Group

In recent years, the Chicago-based R&B singer R. Kelly has alternated between elaborate ballads and and the more erotic collection of songs and videos for his series Trapped In The Closet. His new album, Write Me Back, may be relatively chaste in its sentiments, but it's by no means without passion.

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Thu July 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Ocean's 'Orange' Revolution

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 6:35 pm

Frank Ocean performs onstage at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in April.
Karl Walter Getty Images

Born in New Orleans and still in his mid-20s, Frank Ocean has already written songs for major pop stars. He sang on the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne, and he's been part of the tumultuous Los Angeles musical collective known as Odd Future. None of which quite prepares a listener for the beautifully moody music that dominates his new album, Channel Orange.

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Fri July 6, 2012
Music Reviews

Big K.R.I.T.: Music Straight 'From The Underground'

Originally published on Fri July 6, 2012 2:20 pm

Big K.R.I.T.
Courtesy of the artist

Big K.R.I.T.'s distinction as a rapper is the way he spreads his vowels out over his beats like gravy. There's little that's harsh in his phrasing, even as his lyrics can be tart or tough. In general, though, his tone over the course of Live From the Underground is a voice of coolness, of relaxation or resignation, even occasionally serenity.

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Tue July 3, 2012
Music Reviews

The dB's: Still Plaintive After All These Years

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 3:05 pm

The dB's.
Courtesy of the artist

If there was any doubt that The dB's have any use for being considered through the haze of memory, or limited to the misty fondness from fans who remember them from the early 80s, the blast that opens their new album Falling Off the Sky, a song called "That Time Is Gone," could not be more explicit. Group leaders Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, along with drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder, are taking back their sound after 30 years, sprucing it up and re-exploding it for the days we live in now.

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Tue June 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Fiona Apple's 'Wheel' Of Extravagant Emotions

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 10:49 am

Known for brevity's sake as The Idler Wheel..., Fiona Apple's new album is her first in seven years.
Lionel Deluy

"These ideas of mine / percolate the mind," Fiona Apple sings in "Every Single Night," the song that opens her new album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. Some people are going to listen to the entire record and come away with the feeling that the percolation in Apple's mind has bubbled over like a coffee pot left on a stove too long. But for me and perhaps for you, Apple's bubbling thoughts, words and music are thrilling — eager and direct, heedless about being judged or misunderstood.

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Thu June 14, 2012
Music Reviews

On 'Banga,' Patti Smith Pays Homage To Friends

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 5:39 pm

Patti Smith.
Courtesy of the artist

Featuring Patti Smith's former New York punk-era colleague Tom Verlaine on solo guitar, "April Fool" is one of the prettiest songs on Smith's new album, Banga. Verlaine sends out long, thin, delicate tendrils of sound as Smith's voice suffuses the melody with full-throated urgency. Although Smith has said, with typical art-democratic directness, that "almost everybody in the world can sing," a few songs on Banga make you aware of what a good voice she has.

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Wed June 6, 2012
Music Reviews

Making Music From Messy Relationships With 'Kin'

Originally published on Fri June 8, 2012 11:08 am

The new album Kin is a collaboration between author Mary Karr and singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell.
Deborah Feingold

It's not unusual for poets to try their hands at pop music-making. Patti Smith was a poet before she was a rock star. In recent years, print-poets such as David Berman and Wyn Cooper have put out more-than-credible song collections. But Mary Karr, known more for prize-winning memoirs such as The Liars Club and Lit than for her excellent poetry, has taken a high-profile risk that's paid off.

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