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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10:54am

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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12:03pm

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

1:13pm

Wed December 12, 2012
Music Reviews

A 'Warrior' Looking For 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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1:17pm

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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2:34pm

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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12:35pm

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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12:22pm

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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1:34pm

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

12:49pm

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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10:14am

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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3:10pm

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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11:16am

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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2:04pm

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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11:16am

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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12:38pm

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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