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.

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4:00pm

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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11:51am

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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12:23pm

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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12:53pm

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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12:22pm

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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11:43am

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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11:40am

Fri June 1, 2012
Music Reviews

Diamond Rugs: Carefully Constructed Drinking Tunes

Originally published on Fri June 1, 2012 1:11 pm

Diamond Rugs.
Amie Ledford

Diamond Rugs is one those bands that wants you to think it prizes spontaneity and sloppy good fun more than careful song construction and technical polish. And the album, also titled Diamond Rugs, almost succeeds in convincing you of its sloppy aesthetic, dispensing songs about drinking and carousing only to be left morose, in one's cups.

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12:17pm

Mon May 21, 2012
Music Reviews

John Fullbright: How To Connect 'From The Ground Up'

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 8:51 am

Though he's not yet 25, Fullbright's music sounds like he's lived through a lot — or at least thought it through.
Vicki Farmer

John Fullbright's voice rises up and around the guitar chords in "Me Wanting You," his tone intended to haunt the person he's addressing. His desire, his "me wanting you," is as direct as he can possibly make it — it's not a cry of despair or hope or lust. It's the sound of someone intent on making as strong a connection with the listener as he possibly can.

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10:53am

Mon April 23, 2012
Music Reviews

Todd Snider: 'Stoner Fables' With A Layered Worldview

Originally published on Mon April 23, 2012 11:20 am

Courtesy of the artist

Todd Snider is, on one level, your average guitar-strumming singer-songwriter with varying amounts of musical accompaniment for songs he sings with mush-mouthed intimacy. But Snider, now in his mid-40s and impressively prolific, is also an exceptional singer-songwriter, able to set up scenes with quick, precise details.

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11:41am

Mon April 16, 2012
Music Reviews

Loudon Wainwright III Looks Back At His 'Old Man'

As Loudon Wainwright III says in his song "In C," he likes to sing about "my favorite protagonist — me."

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12:25pm

Tue April 10, 2012
Music Reviews

Bonnie Raitt's 'Slipstream': A Barnstorming Good Time

Originally published on Tue April 10, 2012 4:39 pm

Bonnie Raitt.
Courtesy of the artist

The warmth and vigor of Bonnie Raitt's voice throughout her new album Slipstream, even when she's covering an oldie such as Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line," is vital and fresh — urgent, even. Raitt has always possessed a gift for taking a familiar phrase and rendering it in a manner that compels a listener to think anew about what the words really mean.

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11:11am

Tue April 3, 2012
Music Reviews

There's Only 'One Direction' For This Boy Band: Up

One Direction.
Courtesy of the artist

The callow croon over a pulsating beat, the massed harmonies in the chorus, the lyrics about partying that name-check Katy Perry and include a wistful wish for a nameless girl to kiss the singer — this is boy-band music at its newest and its most timeless. The five young guys who comprise One Direction are single-minded.

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12:27pm

Mon March 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Dierks Bentley's 'Home' Is Full Of Country Struggles

Courtesy of the artist

Dierks Bentley has a nice, deep voice; an open, friendly demeanor; and a knack for working in a variety of country-music genres, from bluegrass to power ballads. For all that, it's always been difficult to pin down what Bentley aims to do. Although he's only in his 30s, Bentley sounds as though he's working through a bit of a midlife crisis on his new album Home. Take, for example, the single "Am I the Only One," a novelty tune about going out to party with a twist — not many of Bentley's pals want to join him, because they've settled into adulthood, and he hasn't.

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11:31am

Tue February 21, 2012
Music Reviews

'Barchords': An Intense, Pensive Album About Love

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 10:54 am

Afie Jurvanen
Dave Gillespie All Eyes Media

The song "I Got You Babe," on Bahamas' new album, Barchords, is obviously not Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." This version is an original song the Canadian singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, who records under the stage name Bahamas, has written about holding and losing someone.

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11:28am

Wed February 8, 2012
Music Reviews

Chuck Prophet's 'Beautiful' Homage To San Francisco

Chuck Prophet.
Charlie Homo

Chuck Prophet's new album, Temple Beautiful, takes its name from a former synagogue that hosted punk-rock shows in the late '70s and early '80s; it was next door to the temple overseen by cult leader Jim Jones. That may sound like a grim or black-humored reference point around which to erect an album, but with Prophet, grimness, humor, fact and fiction mingle freely. Before anything else, he's a guitar player with a melodically nasal voice whose phrasing favors the whimsical and the querulous.

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11:58am

Thu February 2, 2012
Music Reviews

Lana Del Rey: The Self-Made Pop Star As Target

Lana Del Ray
Nicole Nodland Shore Fire

Lana Del Rey appeared on Saturday Night Live recently, giving two rather tentative performances that, depending on your point of view, were awkward and amateurish or shrewdly restrained and vulnerable. Del Rey, in her mid-20s, attracts polarizing opinions.

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12:02pm

Thu January 12, 2012
Country

Janie Fricke: The 'Country Side Of Bluegrass'

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 2:14 pm

Janie Fricke.
Courtesy of the artist

Janie Fricke has had a long, winding career. She started out as a singer of TV commercial jingles, warbling for Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Red Lobster, among other clients. She then moved on to singing back-up vocals for stars such as Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton.

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11:36am

Thu January 5, 2012
Music Reviews

On 'Back To Love,' Hamilton Makes Every Syllable Count

Anthony Hamilton.
Courtesy of the artist

On Back to Love, Anthony Hamilton makes music from declarations. He tells a woman "I'm missing you crazy" in "Who's Loving You," and it's typical of his strategy. He states his thesis, his opinion, his desire in a voice that speaks as much as it sings for the sake of emphasis. After he's sure he's gotten his lover's attention, he begins doing his rhythm-and-blues work, mixing soul and blues and hip-hop phrasing to heighten the emotion in a song.

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10:09am

Tue December 20, 2011
Best Music Of 2011

Ken Tucker's Top 10: The Year In Music

W W Norton & Co Inc

12:38pm

Thu December 8, 2011
Music Reviews

The Black Keys: A Reinvention On 'El Camino'

Originally published on Thu December 8, 2011 1:12 pm

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney released El Camino, their latest album as The Black Keys, earlier this week.
Courtesy of the artist

Careening into your ears like the theme to a bank-heist flick is "Lonely Boy," the first single from El Camino. Except the lyric tucked inside the roaring, curve-hugging melody isn't about anything so action-packed as robbing a bank or making a getaway. Instead, Dan Auerbach sings about stasis: "I got a love that keeps me waiting." And, being the sensible raucous rocker that he is, Auerbach is willing to wait out his love, because he knows in his heart that she's worth it.

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11:48am

Wed November 30, 2011
Music Reviews

Buck Owens: Finding His Voice In 'Bakersfield'

Courtesy of the artist

I'm not much for collections of alternate takes and the early music of people who went on to have hits. There's usually a reason a song doesn't become a hit, just as there's usually a reason to record another take — it's because the music is usually lousy. But I'm a little bit obsessed with a new collection of Buck Owens performances from the years before he became a star.

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12:00pm

Tue November 22, 2011
Music Reviews

David Lynch Dreams Up 'Crazy Clown Time'

David Lynch.
Mark Berry

David Lynch commences Crazy Clown Time with "Pinky's Dream," featuring a vocal by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O and summoning up, as the song title suggests, a dreamy atmosphere. With Karen O's pretty voice and the galloping rock beat, it's as though Lynch is trying to ease us into his album, ushering us into a welcoming waiting room before the real operation, when the scalpel comes out.

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11:19am

Wed November 9, 2011
Country

'Four The Record,' Lambert Comes To Terms With Herself

Miranda Lambert
Kevin Winter Getty Images

Four the Record is a transitional collection for Miranda Lambert. Her preceding three albums played up the idea of Miranda as a good ol' gal with an explosive emotional streak. You saw it in titles like "Kerosene," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "Gunpowder and Lead." Four The Record is an album whose subtext is all about coming to terms with the expectations of her audience, and with her expectations for herself as a performer wanting to broaden her subject matter, to work in more varied styles.

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12:07pm

Thu November 3, 2011
Music Reviews

Kelly Clarkson's Vocals Keep Getting 'Stronger'

Kelly Clarkson.
Harper Smith

Like a lot of successful American Idol contestants, Kelly Clarkson made her reputation as a belter — as someone who could project to the rafters and rouse a crowd — which doesn't necessarily translate into good pop singing. Ever since Bing Crosby started using the microphone as an instrument for achieving intimacy and nuance, the idea of delivering popular song as operatic aria is a flawed strategy. But everybody loves an anthem, right?

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12:28pm

Thu October 27, 2011
Music Reviews

Deer Tick: Finding 'Divine Providence' Along The Way

Originally published on Fri October 28, 2011 8:51 am

The title of Deer Tick's new album, Divine Providence, is a pun: The band hails from the capital of Rhode Island. But the other side of the pun is sarcastic. There's little on the album concerning divine providence or care. Nor is the band provident — frugal or prudent — about its talent and music. Group frontman John McCauley continues to sing as though the primary idea is to shred his vocal cords.

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11:44am

Thu October 20, 2011
Country

Shelby Lynne: A 'Revelation' With An Exceptional Voice

Shelby Lynne.

Jason Harter

If the title of her new album is a tad portentous, Shelby Lynne is determined to make precisely detailed mood music, not a succession of revelatory moments, throughout Revelation Road. That's ultimately what gives the album its strength. It's underpinned with sturdy melodies, the occasional bright image and, above all else, Lynne's exceptional voice, which cuts across every song with a sharp, slicing motion.

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11:54am

Wed October 12, 2011
Country

Breathing New Life Into Hank Williams' Lyrics

It's hard not to feel ambivalent about The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. Yes, it does give us an opportunity to hear previously unreleased lyrics by one of the greatest songwriters country music has produced. But Williams didn't write the music that accompanies his words, and as sincere as these performers are, none of the words are framed the way Williams would have, had he completed the songwriting process.

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12:02pm

Wed June 8, 2011
Spotlight on Country

Brad Paisley: 'Country Music,' Defined

Brad Paisley.
Jim Shea Sony Music

Brad Paisley doesn't possess the most distinctive voice in country music, and his guitar solos exude a lot of arena-friendly rock 'n' roll flashiness. But he's become a huge country star on the basis of just this combination of aw-shucks ordinariness and ostentatious skill.

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1:24pm

Tue May 24, 2011
Music News

Raphael Saadiq: Paying Homage To Soul's Past And Future

Raphael Saadiq's fourth studio album is titled Stone Rollin'.
Jeff Vespa WireImage.com

Three years ago, Raphael Saadiq's The Way I See It was a neck-snapping collection of almost-perfect Motown-style soul. For his new album, Saadiq remains intent on making a new generation mindful of the great music of decades past.

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10:50am

Tue May 10, 2011
Music Reviews

Loudon Wainwright III Looks Back At '40 Odd Years'

Lots of artists get entombed in box-set career retrospectives. Few lend themselves to the process as appropriately as Loudon Wainwright III does on 40 Odd Years, because his entire body of work — with a few exceptions like "Dead Skunk" — is about using his life to build his art.

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