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.

D'Angelo has built a considerable reputation on the basis of three albums: 1995's Brown Sugar, 2000's Voodoo, and now Black Messiah, unexpectedly released early Monday morning. The singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist has been widely praised for connecting many decades of different rhythm & blues styles, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says Black Messiah is as adventurous as any fan could hope for.

Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker says that one of the best books he's ever read about punk rock is a new memoir by Viv Albertine, one of the founding members of the British punk rock band the Slits. The book, titled Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. chronicles Albertine's life with punk legends such as Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols and Mick Jones of the Clash, on through subsequent careers as a film director and mother.

In the record industry, it's not too early to be releasing Christmas albums, and Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker has been listening to a lot of them. He's narrowed down his list of goodies to these four: A Merry Friggin' Christmas soundtrack, Christmas at Downton Abby, Earth Wind and Fire's Holiday and the Living Sisters' Harmony is Real.

A batch of lyrics that Bob Dylan wrote in the late 1960s were given by Dylan to producer T-Bone Burnett, who came up with the idea to have some contemporary musicians set the words to music. Burnett gathered Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, and Rhiannon Giddens from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and they recorded an album over the course of two weeks in L.A. It's called Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes, and Showtime will air a documentary about the making of the album on November 21.

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

Transcript

Taylor Swift's fifth album is called 1989, the year she was born. For the past few years, she's been the young queen of country music, by far its biggest-selling artist. But 1989 sidesteps country music entirely to become Swift's first pure pop album. Fresh Air rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

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.

If you've been wondering where Prince has gone, he's re-signed with Warner Brothers Records after spending the last few years of sporadic independent releases. Now Prince has released two new albums simultaneously: Art Official Age appears under his own name, and PlectrumElectrum is the debut record of a Prince back-up band called 3rdEyeGirl, but it includes Prince's vocals, guitar, and production style throughout. Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker has a review of both albums.

Blake Mills has done a lot in his 28 years. As a guitarist, he has accompanied singers including Lucinda Williams, Neil Diamond, Kid Rock, and Lana Del Ray. He's produced songs for acts such as Fiona Apple and Alabama Shakes. His new album, his second, is called Heigh Ho, and Fresh Air critic Ken Tucker says it's notable for the diversity of its sound.

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.

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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.

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.

Spoon Wants Your Soul

Aug 4, 2014

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/.

Transcript

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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.

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.

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.

Pages