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
3:12 pm
Mon October 20, 2014

Ex Hex's 'Rips' Does What It Says On The Cover

Punk rock lives on the debut album by a new trio, Ex Hex. The album is called Rips, and it's at once a throwback to bands like the Ramones and the sound of something new. Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says the three women who make up Ex Hex have created an exhilaratingly energetic piece of work.

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Music
3:43 pm
Thu September 18, 2014

Pere Ubu's 'Carnival Of Souls' Is A Dreamscape That's Never Dreamy

Originally published on Thu September 18, 2014 5:39 pm

Pere Ubu's new album, Carnival of Souls, is a reference to the 1962 cult horror film. But as Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker hears it, the band, led since the late '70s by co-founder David Thomas, has created something far more rich, experimental, and emotional than spooky, horror-movie music.

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Music Reviews
2:27 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

The New Pornographers Return With A 'Celebration Record' That's Fun To Figure Out

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Music Reviews
1:45 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

At 71, Elvin Bishop Is Still Vigorous, And Can Do Wrong Right

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Music
3:51 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Benjamin Booker Is Raw, Yet Disciplined On Debut Album

There's something about a rapidly strummed guitar chord followed quickly by an urgent vocal that is one definition of an effective rock song, and Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker thinks he's found quite a few examples of this on Benjamin Booker's self-titled debut album. The 25-year-old guitarist-singer-songwriter has already served as an opening act on Jack White's recent tour, and he may be ready for headliner status.

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Music
3:34 pm
Mon August 11, 2014

At 74, Outlaw Billy Joe Shaver Is Still An Outlier

Originally published on Mon August 11, 2014 3:55 pm

In 1973, Waylon Jennings released an album called Honky Tonk Heroes that consisted almost entirely, with one exception, of songs written by Billie Joe Shaver, a then-unknown Texas songwriter.

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Music
3:31 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Spoon Wants Your Soul

Originally published on Mon August 4, 2014 3:52 pm

Spoon has just released its first new album since 2010's Transference. Fresh Air critic says that "They Want My Soul is another fine Spoon album in a career that has now come to display a remarkable consistency."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Music Reviews
2:52 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

Jenny Lewis' 'The Voyager' Is An Album To Spend Time With

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 3:30 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Music
3:03 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

The Cowboy That Wasn't A Cowboy Sings

Originally published on Tue July 15, 2014 3:52 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
2:37 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 2:46 pm

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
2:49 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Strand Of Oaks: Songs Heal All Wounds

Originally published on Fri July 11, 2014 10:49 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
2:09 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
2:36 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
3:28 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
3:09 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
2:03 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Two New Items From Hank Williams

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 11:46 am

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Music Reviews
5:02 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
1:43 pm
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
2:44 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
4:57 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

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

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 9:51 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Music Reviews
12:53 pm
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
2:54 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
5:35 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
1:31 pm
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
2:38 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 4:03 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
1:04 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Chuck Mead: Gleefully Sinister Country Serenades

Chuck Mead.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 2:25 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
2:15 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
4:13 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 10:21 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
1:41 pm
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
1:36 pm
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 4:20 pm

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