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 Reviews
11:38 am
Mon July 30, 2012

This Time, R. Kelly Burns With (Relatively Chaste) Passion

RCA Music Group

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 2:56 pm

In recent years, the Chicago-based R&B singer R. Kelly has alternated between elaborate ballads and and the more erotic collection of songs and videos for his series Trapped In The Closet. His new album, Write Me Back, may be relatively chaste in its sentiments, but it's by no means without passion.

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Music Reviews
2:00 pm
Thu July 26, 2012

Ocean's 'Orange' Revolution

Frank Ocean performs onstage at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in April.
Karl Walter Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 26, 2012 4:35 pm

Born in New Orleans and still in his mid-20s, Frank Ocean has already written songs for major pop stars. He sang on the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne, and he's been part of the tumultuous Los Angeles musical collective known as Odd Future. None of which quite prepares a listener for the beautifully moody music that dominates his new album, Channel Orange.

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Music Reviews
9:44 am
Fri July 6, 2012

Big K.R.I.T.: Music Straight 'From The Underground'

Big K.R.I.T.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri July 6, 2012 12:20 pm

Big K.R.I.T.'s distinction as a rapper is the way he spreads his vowels out over his beats like gravy. There's little that's harsh in his phrasing, even as his lyrics can be tart or tough. In general, though, his tone over the course of Live From the Underground is a voice of coolness, of relaxation or resignation, even occasionally serenity.

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Music Reviews
10:23 am
Tue July 3, 2012

The dB's: Still Plaintive After All These Years

The dB's.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 1:05 pm

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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Music Reviews
10:53 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Fiona Apple's 'Wheel' Of Extravagant Emotions

Known for brevity's sake as The Idler Wheel..., Fiona Apple's new album is her first in seven years.
Lionel Deluy

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

"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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Music Reviews
10:22 am
Thu June 14, 2012

On 'Banga,' Patti Smith Pays Homage To Friends

Patti Smith.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu June 14, 2012 3:39 pm

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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Music Reviews
9:43 am
Wed June 6, 2012

Making Music From Messy Relationships With 'Kin'

The new album Kin is a collaboration between author Mary Karr and singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell.
Deborah Feingold

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

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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Music Reviews
9:40 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Diamond Rugs: Carefully Constructed Drinking Tunes

Diamond Rugs.
Amie Ledford

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

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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Music Reviews
10:38 am
Mon May 21, 2012

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

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

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

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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Music Reviews
8:53 am
Mon April 23, 2012

Todd Snider: 'Stoner Fables' With A Layered Worldview

Courtesy of the artist

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

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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Music Reviews
9:41 am
Mon April 16, 2012

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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Music Reviews
10:25 am
Tue April 10, 2012

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

Bonnie Raitt.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 10, 2012 2:39 pm

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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Music Reviews
9:11 am
Tue April 3, 2012

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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Music Reviews
10:27 am
Mon March 5, 2012

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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Music Reviews
9:31 am
Tue February 21, 2012

'Barchords': An Intense, Pensive Album About Love

Afie Jurvanen
Dave Gillespie All Eyes Media

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

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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Music Reviews
9:28 am
Wed February 8, 2012

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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Music Reviews
9:58 am
Thu February 2, 2012

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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