Ken Tucker

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.

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

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5:35pm

Thu March 20, 2014
Music Reviews

Sara Evans: Country Power Ballads With A Punch

Sara Evans.
Robert Ascroft Courtesy of the artist

1:31pm

Tue March 11, 2014
Music Reviews

Angel Olsen: A Voice Of Confounding Power

Angel Olsen.
Zia Anger Courtesy of the artist

Angel Olsen begins the song "Hi-Five" by paraphrasing Hank Williams, admitting she's so lonesome she could cry. She goes on to say she just wants someone who believes in love as urgently as she does. The twanging guitar throbbing beneath these sentiments suggests that it's going to be a long, lonely search. Over a matter of minutes, Olsen has created the landscape she'll inhabit for an entire album.

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2:38pm

Thu March 6, 2014
Music Reviews

Pharrell Williams: Just Exhilaratingly Happy

Originally published on Thu March 6, 2014 4:03 pm

Pharrell, sporting more conventional headwear.
Mimi Valdés Courtesy of the artist

Pharrell Williams, who frequently goes by just his first name, is the sort of pop star whom many people would like to view as a friend. Emerging from hip-hop, he makes charming recordings that suggest a deep appreciation of pop, soul and R&B music extending at least as far back as the 1960s. To hear Pharrell on his new album G I R L, you'd think his world consisted of grooving on catchy beats and flirting with women. It's a lightweight image that draws gravitas from his prolific work ethic and a shrewd deployment of those influences.

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1:04pm

Mon March 3, 2014
Music Reviews

Chuck Mead: Gleefully Sinister Country Serenades

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 2:25 pm

Chuck Mead.
Courtesy of the artist

In "Reno County Girl," Chuck Mead serenades us with a tale about a young woman with whom his narrator fell in love. It's a loping country song, Mead's version of cowboy music, but as its pretty melody unfurls, you realize that its scenario is bleak: Mead's character urged her to leave home despite the objections of her father, and it turns out Daddy was right — this guy leaves her all by her lonesome much of the time.

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2:15pm

Mon February 24, 2014
Music Reviews

Vertical Scratchers: Slashed Chords, Fractured Poetry

Vertical Scratchers.
Joseph Amario Courtesy of the artist

The members of Vertical Scratchers don't have to pretend: They are free spirits, making music that is at once tightly composed, whimsical and anarchic.

The vocals on a Vertical Scratchers song tend to be high-pitched and yearning. John Schmersal creates harmonies from his vocal tracks that have a keening romanticism. His guitar lines are a series of slashed chords — vertical scratching, and thus the band's name. At the same time, there's a compressed intensity to the tunes, which uncoil with a snap, again and again.

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4:13pm

Wed February 12, 2014
Music Reviews

Lake Street Dive: 'Portraits' Of Heartache

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 10:21 am

Lake Street Dive.
Jarrod McCabe Courtesy of the artist

Lake Street Dive is powered by the voice of Rachael Price; it's what hits you first when you listen to this quartet. It's a ringingly clear, strong voice, a sound that's at once beseeching and in control. Price regularly harmonizes with the other members of Lake Street Dive — bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese and Mike Olson, who also plays guitar and trumpet. But most of the songs on Bad Self Portraits are showcases for Price's surging vocals.

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1:41pm

Mon February 10, 2014
Music Reviews

Hangin' Tuff: Eric Church Takes A Chance On 'The Outsiders'

Eric Church.
John Peets Courtesy of the artist

Eric Church is working on a level that few other country artists of his generation can touch. Now, one of the things I mean by that is that Church is willing to take big chances such as "The Outsiders," the title track from his fourth album, and clearly a manifesto he's proud of.

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1:36pm

Wed January 29, 2014
Music Reviews

Don't Pigeonhole Me, Bro: New Country Albums On The Borderline

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 4:20 pm

Jon Pardi.
Courtesy of the artist

2:45pm

Thu January 23, 2014
Music Reviews

On 'Hard Working Americans,' Songs For The Ordinary Joe

Originally published on Thu January 23, 2014 4:39 pm

Hard Working Americans.
James Martin Courtesy of the artist

12:55pm

Tue January 14, 2014
Music Reviews

Uneven But Vital, Bruce Springsteen Has 'High Hopes'

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 2:04 pm

Bruce Springsteen's 18th album is titled High Hopes.
Danny Clinch Courtesy of the artist

High Hopes is a different sort of release for Bruce Springsteen. It features original and cover songs that had been performed live over the years, some never recorded in a studio setting, as well as a few older songs reconceived with new arrangements and musicians.

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12:29pm

Fri January 10, 2014
Music Reviews

Rosanne Cash: Seeking A 'Thread' Through Southern History

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 2:30 pm

Rosanne Cash.
Clay Patrick McBride Courtesy of the artist

For the past two decades, Rosanne Cash has lived with her family in Manhattan, but in 2008, she was asked if she wanted to help with a project to restore the childhood home of her father, Johnny Cash, in the small town of Dyess, Ark. She agreed and went down there to do some fundraising — and in the process, she and her husband, producer-songwriter-guitarist John Leventhal, took some car trips throughout the South, soaking up history and music.

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3:09pm

Tue December 17, 2013
Best Music Of 2013

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 12:21 am

Jason Isbell's Southeastern was Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker's favorite album of 2013.
Courtesy of the artist

1:40pm

Mon December 16, 2013
Music Reviews

A Former Girl-Group Singer Goes 'All Or Nothing'

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 2:33 pm

With new songs and covers, La La Brooks' All or Nothing isn't just an attempted career comeback.
Jacob Blickenstaff Courtesy of the artist

A half-century on, La La Brooks still sings about boys and girls falling in love. At an age when other veterans of first-generation rock movements are thinking about retirement or oldies tours, Brooks has come up with a fresh, energetic collection that doesn't deny her past, but also refuses to succumb to mere nostalgia.

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12:08pm

Fri November 15, 2013
Music Reviews

Two Sides Of Holiday Cheer From Kelly Clarkson, Nick Lowe

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 2:57 pm

Kelly Clarkson's new holiday album is titled Wrapped in Red.
Courtesy of the artist

12:06pm

Thu October 31, 2013
Music Reviews

Brandy Clark Tells The 'Stories' That Are Tough To Hear

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 9:12 am

Brandy Clark's new album is titled 12 Stories.
Becky Fluke Courtesy of the artist

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