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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Music
1:03 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

The Cowboy That Wasn't A Cowboy Sings

Originally published on Tue July 15, 2014 1:52 pm

Cowboy Jack Clement, who died in 2013 at age 82, was a prolific producer, songwriter, arranger, and talent scout. He brought Jerry Lee Lewis to Sun Records, helped nurture the career of one of the few black country stars, Charley Pride, and worked on important albums for artists as various as Waylon Jennings and U2.

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Music
12:46 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

If Jim Lauderdale Is A Song, More People Should Hear It

Jim Lauderdale's new album is called I'm A Song, a title that suggests his deep
immersion in songwriting. His compositions have been covered by singers ranging from George Strait to Solomon Burke, from the Dixie Chicks to Elvis Costello. Since his debut album in 1991, he's recorded more than 25 albums for a variety of record companies, and I'm A Song contains a generous 20 songs. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Lauderdale's career is at once admirable and somewhat puzzling.

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Music
12:49 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Strand Of Oaks: Songs Heal All Wounds

Originally published on Fri July 11, 2014 8:49 am

If you're going to be downbeat, glum, or morose, it's best to do it the way Timothy Showalter does it. Which is, with an energy and purpose that doesn't contradict the melancholy, but rather frames it as various stories — studies in seriousness. He records under the name Strand of Oaks, he writes and performs nearly all of the music on this new album himself. It's titled Heal as in "healing a wound," something Strand of Oaks frequently seems in need of.

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Music
12:09 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence' Has A Firm Grasp On Pop History

Lana Del Rey is a figure of some controversy for her suggestive lyrics, and critical debate as to the extent of her vocal talent versus her talent for publicity. She recently caused a stir when she gave an interview in which she said, quote, "I wish I was dead already," and drew criticism from, among others, Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean.

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Music
12:36 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

Parquet Courts' Misery Is Exhilarating

Parquet Courts is a Brooklyn by way of Texas band that has just released its new third record, Sunbathing Animal. The quartet has drawn comparisons to New York rock and punk acts as various as the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, and Sonic Youth, but rock critic Ken Tucker says this album proves Parquet Courts is an original.

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Music
1:28 pm
Wed June 4, 2014

Miranda Lambert's 'Platinum' Has Backyard Swagger

Miranda Lambert's new album is called Platinum. Lambert has become one of the best-selling artists in country music, and one of the most critically acclaimed. Rock critic Ken Tucker says her new album continues Lambert's ongoing project to create songs about women who are complex, fun-loving, and assertive.

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Music Reviews
1:09 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

John Fullbright's Uneven 'Songs' Finds A Way To Fascinate

John Fullbright's new album is called Songs.
Courtesy of the artist

John Fullbright's Songs is the most interestingly uneven album I've heard in a while. The work of a smart young man, it's also the work of a self-conscious young man who's prone to mistaking articulate melancholy for wisdom. Fullbright's debut album contained bold melodies and told stories about daydreamers and offbeat people. On Songs, Fullbright opts for pure mood-setting, sounding morose in an attempt to signal subtle passion, but that's not really how it plays out.

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Music Reviews
12:03 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Two New Items From Hank Williams

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 9:46 am

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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Music Reviews
3:02 pm
Tue May 13, 2014

Ray LaMontagne Finds The Bright Side On 'Supernova'

Ray LaMontagne's new album is called Supernova.
Samantha Casolari Courtesy of the artist

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Music Reviews
11:43 am
Mon May 5, 2014

tUnE-yArDs: Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing

tUnE-yArDs.
Holly Andres Courtesy of the artist.

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Music Reviews
12:44 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

For Jessica Lea Mayfield, Sometimes Sanity Is The Better Option

Jessica Lea Mayfield.
LeAnn Mueller Courtesy of the artist.

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Music Reviews
2:57 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

A Duo's Debut Album: A Collaboration From 'The Both'

Originally published on Mon April 21, 2014 6:26 am

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The Both is the name for the duo formed by veteran singer-songwriters Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. "The Both" is also the name of their debut album. The two began performing together in 2012, when Ted Leo was Mann's opening act. Mann began joining Leo onstage during his set. They liked the sound their voices together and started collaborating. Rock critic Ken Tucker has this review of "The Both."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GAMBLER")

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Music Reviews
10:53 am
Fri April 4, 2014

Carlene Carter Carries The Heavy Burden Of History Lightly

Carlene Carter.
Marina Chavez Courtesy of the artist

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Music Reviews
12:54 pm
Wed April 2, 2014

Jon Langford Sings Our Impulse To Destroy

Jon Langford with Skull Orchard.
Courtesy of the artist

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Music Reviews
3:35 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

Sara Evans: Country Power Ballads With A Punch

Sara Evans.
Robert Ascroft Courtesy of the artist

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Music Reviews
11:31 am
Tue March 11, 2014

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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Music Reviews
12:18 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Pharrell Williams: Just Exhilaratingly Happy

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

Originally published on Thu March 6, 2014 2:03 pm

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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Music Reviews
10:58 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Chuck Mead: Gleefully Sinister Country Serenades

Chuck Mead.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 12:25 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:15 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

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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Music Reviews
2:13 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Lake Street Dive: 'Portraits' Of Heartache

Lake Street Dive.
Jarrod McCabe Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 8:21 am

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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Music Reviews
11:41 am
Mon February 10, 2014

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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Music Reviews
11:36 am
Wed January 29, 2014

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

Jon Pardi.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 2:20 pm

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Music Reviews
12:45 pm
Thu January 23, 2014

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

Hard Working Americans.
James Martin Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu January 23, 2014 2:39 pm

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Music Reviews
10:55 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Uneven But Vital, Bruce Springsteen Has 'High Hopes'

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

Originally published on Tue January 14, 2014 12:04 pm

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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Music Reviews
10:29 am
Fri January 10, 2014

Rosanne Cash: Seeking A 'Thread' Through Southern History

Rosanne Cash.
Clay Patrick McBride Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 12:30 pm

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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Best Music Of 2013
1:09 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

Ken Tucker's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

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

Originally published on Tue December 17, 2013 10:21 pm

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Music Reviews
11:40 am
Mon December 16, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 12:33 pm

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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Music Reviews
10:08 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Two Sides Of Holiday Cheer From Kelly Clarkson, Nick Lowe

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

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 12:57 pm

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Music Reviews
10:06 am
Thu October 31, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 7:12 am

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Music Reviews
10:22 am
Tue October 22, 2013

It's A Family Affair On Linda Thompson's 'Won't Be Long Now'

Linda Thompson's new album is called Won't Be Long Now.
Annabel Vere Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 1:58 pm

Linda Thompson is probably best known for the albums she recorded with her husband Richard Thompson in the '70s and early '80s. They divorced, and Thompson has maintained a sporadic solo career. Her new album is a family affair, featuring some accompaniment by her ex-husband, and some songs written with her son, the singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson.

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