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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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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12:00pm

Fri May 6, 2011
Music Reviews

The Beastie Boys: Hip-Hop With A Dash Of 'Hot Sauce'

The Beastie Boys are all about noise. Their beats are big and booming. Their production style is intentionally fuzzy and frequently distorted. Their lyrics are the dense, articulate yammerings of wiseguys who will not get out of your face.

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11:49am

Wed April 27, 2011
Spotlight on Country

Emmylou Harris: An Invigorating, Inviting 'Hard Bargain'

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 12:08 pm

Emmylou Harris' new album is Hard Bargain.
Jack Spencer Courtesy of the artist

Emmylou Harris sings with a steadfast purity that can be starkly beautiful; it can also be coldly distancing. Over the years, her public image has coalesced around the idea of a serene singer-songwriter whose elegance and wisdom is signaled by her silver-gray hair. It takes a lot to get a rise out of Harris, but producer Jay Joyce has succeeded on Hard Bargain.

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12:48pm

Tue April 12, 2011
Music Reviews

Edwyn Collins: 'Losing Sleep' And Continuing Life

"I'm losing sleep, I'm losing dignity," Edwyn Collins sings in the title song of his new album, Losing Sleep. Powered by soul-music rhythms and sung in a tough, terse tone, Collins sounds impatient, eager to get on with his life. The music is the work of a man on a mission.

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11:32am

Mon April 11, 2011
Music Reviews

The Smithereens' Sweet Nostalgia, With Fresh Variations

In the world of The Smithereens, women tend to be girls, who tend to be either saviors or destroyers of the singer's closed-in universe. With a lesser band of middle-aged American men deploying guitar chords and harmonies that assiduously evoke 1960s British Invasion pop, this could come off as stunted, even laughable. With The Smithereens, however, it's an achievement in a musical conservatism rendered joyously.

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11:42am

Mon March 28, 2011
Music Reviews

'Middle Brother': Hand-Clapping Foot-Stompers

There's a singer-songwriter intimacy in many of the songs on Middle Brother, as though band members John McCauley, Taylor Goldsmith and Matthew Vasquez were sharing secrets and anecdotes and decided to set them to music.

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