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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10:23am

Tue July 3, 2012
Music Reviews

The dB's: Still Plaintive After All These Years

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 1:05 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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10:53am

Tue June 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Fiona Apple's 'Wheel' Of Extravagant Emotions

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 8:49 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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10:22am

Thu June 14, 2012
Music Reviews

On 'Banga,' Patti Smith Pays Homage To Friends

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 3:39 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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9:43am

Wed June 6, 2012
Music Reviews

Making Music From Messy Relationships With 'Kin'

Originally published on Fri June 8, 2012 9:08 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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9:40am

Fri June 1, 2012
Music Reviews

Diamond Rugs: Carefully Constructed Drinking Tunes

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

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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10:38am

Mon May 21, 2012
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu May 24, 2012 6:51 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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8:53am

Mon April 23, 2012
Music Reviews

Todd Snider: 'Stoner Fables' With A Layered Worldview

Originally published on Mon April 23, 2012 9:20 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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9:41am

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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10:25am

Tue April 10, 2012
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue April 10, 2012 2:39 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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9:11am

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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10:27am

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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9:31am

Tue February 21, 2012
Music Reviews

'Barchords': An Intense, Pensive Album About Love

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 8:54 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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9:28am

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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9:58am

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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10:02am

Thu January 12, 2012
Country

Janie Fricke: The 'Country Side Of Bluegrass'

Originally published on Thu January 12, 2012 12:14 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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9:36am

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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8:09am

Tue December 20, 2011
Best Music Of 2011

Ken Tucker's Top 10: The Year In Music

W W Norton & Co Inc

10:38am

Thu December 8, 2011
Music Reviews

The Black Keys: A Reinvention On 'El Camino'

Originally published on Thu December 8, 2011 11:12 am

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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9:48am

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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10:00am

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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