1. Ken Tucker reviews Carlene Carter's new album Carter Girl, an album that offers “a fresh take on classic songs:”

 What Carlene Carter does on this album is significant. She doesn’t approach these old songs as sacred relics to be enshrined with pious respect. Rather, she treats them like living, vital pieces of art that can withstand being taken apart, thought about, and re-imagined. Take, for example, “Lonesome Valley.” It’s a song that was itself an interpretation of a public-domain composition when the Carter Family recorded it, and has subsequently been sung many different ways, by Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou, to name just a few. Carlene has taken back the song, added some of her own lyrics about deaths in her family, plays some wonderful piano, and sings harmony on the chorus with Vince Gill. In the process, she comes up with her own excellent piece of work.


photo by Sasha Haagensen /GettyImages View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Carlene Carter's new album Carter Girl, an album that offers “a fresh take on classic songs:”

     What Carlene Carter does on this album is significant. She doesn’t approach these old songs as sacred relics to be enshrined with pious respect. Rather, she treats them like living, vital pieces of art that can withstand being taken apart, thought about, and re-imagined. Take, for example, “Lonesome Valley.” It’s a song that was itself an interpretation of a public-domain composition when the Carter Family recorded it, and has subsequently been sung many different ways, by Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou, to name just a few. Carlene has taken back the song, added some of her own lyrics about deaths in her family, plays some wonderful piano, and sings harmony on the chorus with Vince Gill. In the process, she comes up with her own excellent piece of work.

    photo by Sasha Haagensen /GettyImages

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  1. Ken Tucker reviews Sara Evans' album Slow Me Down:

"Sara Evans is a singer with a big voice who knows what to do with it. Her phrasing is conversational; she rarely tries to goose the emotion in a song by stretching out syllables or leaping registers. Evans has never been a singer of hardcore country music — she likes pop, and she’s not afraid to apply her big vocal power to a big, cheesy power ballad. The difference between Evans and many singers who work in that particular territory is that her power ballads really pack a punch."

image via sony music nashville View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Sara Evans' album Slow Me Down:

    "Sara Evans is a singer with a big voice who knows what to do with it. Her phrasing is conversational; she rarely tries to goose the emotion in a song by stretching out syllables or leaping registers. Evans has never been a singer of hardcore country music — she likes pop, and she’s not afraid to apply her big vocal power to a big, cheesy power ballad. The difference between Evans and many singers who work in that particular territory is that her power ballads really pack a punch."

    image via sony music nashville

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    Country Music

    review

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  1. 
Burn Your Fire For No Witness is Angel Olsen’s first album with a backing band, and she makes great use of it. Her singing contains a naturally mysterious quality, at once confiding and baffling, even unknowable. On a song such as “Forgiven/Forgotten,” Olsen has the drums and bass guitar hammer away at her dented vocal. This creates the sound of someone beating herself up for being so obsessed with being in love, knowing that that’s not enough, for her or for the object of her love.

Read all of Ken Tucker's review of Olsen's album

photo of Angel Olsen  (Autumn Northcraft) via wnyc View in High-Res

    Burn Your Fire For No Witness is Angel Olsen’s first album with a backing band, and she makes great use of it. Her singing contains a naturally mysterious quality, at once confiding and baffling, even unknowable. On a song such as “Forgiven/Forgotten,” Olsen has the drums and bass guitar hammer away at her dented vocal. This creates the sound of someone beating herself up for being so obsessed with being in love, knowing that that’s not enough, for her or for the object of her love.

    Read all of Ken Tucker's review of Olsen's album

    photo of Angel Olsen (Autumn Northcraft) via wnyc

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  1. Ken Tucker reviews Pharrell's new album GIRL:

Pharrell has come in for some criticism recently as being  merely a glossy pop hit maker, for lacking edge. I find that this sort of critique is really code for his declining to revel in irony, sarcasm,  or a bleak view of the world. And that is, in turn, why I find Pharrell Williams, and particularly the Pharrell on display throughout GIRL, an exhilarating performer. His big hat can barely contain his radiant braininess. 


photo of Pharrell via Marcus Barnes/GQ View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Pharrell's new album GIRL:

    Pharrell has come in for some criticism recently as being  merely a glossy pop hit maker, for lacking edge. I find that this sort of critique is really code for his declining to revel in irony, sarcasm,  or a bleak view of the world. And that is, in turn, why I find Pharrell Williams, and particularly the Pharrell on display throughout GIRL, an exhilarating performer. His big hat can barely contain his radiant braininess. 

    photo of Pharrell via Marcus Barnes/GQ

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  1. Ken Tucker reviews Chuck Mead's album Free State Serenade:

"The range of Chuck Mead’s country, blues, and rock sounds here is impressively adroit. If he sometimes undermines his tragic themes with smart-aleck phrasing and the occasionally obvious rhyme, well, you could hear that as part of his strategy as well. He wants to lull you into thinking you’re experiencing the kind of songs you’ve heard before, only to leave you as surprised as his narrators about how their sorry lives turn out."


Photo by Jim Herrington via Nashville Public Radio View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Chuck Mead's album Free State Serenade:

    "The range of Chuck Mead’s country, blues, and rock sounds here is impressively adroit. If he sometimes undermines his tragic themes with smart-aleck phrasing and the occasionally obvious rhyme, well, you could hear that as part of his strategy as well. He wants to lull you into thinking you’re experiencing the kind of songs you’ve heard before, only to leave you as surprised as his narrators about how their sorry lives turn out."

    Photo by Jim Herrington via Nashville Public Radio

  2. chuck mead

    country music

    ken tucker

    review

  1. Ken Tucker reviews Vertical Scratchers: 

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.

    Ken Tucker reviews Vertical Scratchers

    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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    ken tucker

    review

    john schmersal

  1. Ken Tucker reviews Lake Street Dive's new album Bad Self Portraits:

When you look at YouTube videos of Lake Street performing covers such as the Mamas and the Papas’ version of “Dedicated to the One I Love,” what you get is not a fresh interpretation of a song initially made famous by the 5 Royales and the Shirelles, but rather a very nice Mamas and the Papas impersonation. But enough times on this album to make it worth your while, Lake Street Dive powers past nicety to connect with the passion that brings blood and sweat to the tears that heartache songs need in order to thrive. 
View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Lake Street Dive's new album Bad Self Portraits:

    When you look at YouTube videos of Lake Street performing covers such as the Mamas and the Papas’ version of “Dedicated to the One I Love,” what you get is not a fresh interpretation of a song initially made famous by the 5 Royales and the Shirelles, but rather a very nice Mamas and the Papas impersonation. But enough times on this album to make it worth your while, Lake Street Dive powers past nicety to connect with the passion that brings blood and sweat to the tears that heartache songs need in order to thrive.

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    lake street dive

    mamas and the papas

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    review

  1. Early afternoon concert break:

    This is Lake Street Dive performing Jackson 5’s “I Want You back” in Boston. Today Ken Tucker reviews their new album Bad Self Portraits.

    The quartet began performing together almost a decade ago while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Recently, producer T Bone Burnett invited them to play at a concert in NYC featuring the music of the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis.

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  1. 
Shrewd, defiant, sly and funny, Eric Church has succeeded in what he set out to do: He’s using the power he’s accrued from making hit records to make exactly the kind of album he wants, heedless of industry approval. And this is how good he is: Now he’ll go out and, through the singles he’ll release, the touring he’ll do, and the videos he’ll make, will probably turn this personal project into a big commercial deal. The Outsiders deserves nothing less.

Ken Tucker reviews Eric Church’s album The Outsiders View in High-Res

    Shrewd, defiant, sly and funny, Eric Church has succeeded in what he set out to do: He’s using the power he’s accrued from making hit records to make exactly the kind of album he wants, heedless of industry approval. And this is how good he is: Now he’ll go out and, through the singles he’ll release, the touring he’ll do, and the videos he’ll make, will probably turn this personal project into a big commercial deal. The Outsiders deserves nothing less.

    Ken Tucker reviews Eric Church’s album The Outsiders

  2. fresh air

    review

    ken tucker

    eric church

    the outsiders

  1. 
"Ultimately, both Jon Pardi (above) and Jason Eady have to confront the dilemma of all young country musicians: How to navigate the pop current that keeps country music commercially viable while connecting to a past that fewer and fewer listeners are aware of. It’s not a matter of being either a sell-out or authentic; it’s a matter of making music that enough people want to hear to sustain a career."

Ken Tucker reviews two “bro-country” albums from Jon Pardi and Jason Eady


image via got country View in High-Res

    "Ultimately, both Jon Pardi (above) and Jason Eady have to confront the dilemma of all young country musicians: How to navigate the pop current that keeps country music commercially viable while connecting to a past that fewer and fewer listeners are aware of. It’s not a matter of being either a sell-out or authentic; it’s a matter of making music that enough people want to hear to sustain a career."

    Ken Tucker reviews two “bro-country” albums from Jon Pardi and Jason Eady

    image via got country

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    ken tucker

    review

    country music

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  1. Ken Tucker says Hard Working Americans' debut album is a “statement of both solidarity and fun:”

The sound of this quintet is a canny fusion of folk, rock, and the sort of languid yearning at which so-called jam-bands excel at their best… [Singer/songwriter Todd] Snider’s influence keeps the music tart and springy. 


image via Rolling Stone  View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker says Hard Working Americans' debut album is a “statement of both solidarity and fun:”

    The sound of this quintet is a canny fusion of folk, rock, and the sort of languid yearning at which so-called jam-bands excel at their best… [Singer/songwriter Todd] Snider’s influence keeps the music tart and springy.

    image via Rolling Stone 

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    review

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  1. Ken Tucker on Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album, High Hopes, out today: 

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.
View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker on Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album, High Hopes, out today: 

    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.

  2. fresh air

    bruce springsteen

    high hopes

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  1. Ken Tucker’s Best of 2013

    JASON ISBELL, SONGS THAT SHE SANG IN THE SHOWER

    No music moved me more, made me think about life a bit differently, than Jason Isbell’s continually revelatory album Southeastern. It cohered as a statement about love, regret, loneliness, and joy, and also about what it’s like to be making vernacular music concerning these themes. It was self-conscious without being self-absorbed. This past year was also a remarkably dominant  one for women making diverse, challenging music.

    LORDE, ROYALS

    Notable female hit-makers ranged from the New Zealand teenager Lorde, whose song “Royals” I just played, to Miley Cyrus (yes, the latter’s album Bangerz was actually good, folks). There were superb recordings from popsters Tegan and Sara and the sister-group Haim; from indie phenomenon Eleanor Friedberger; from the soul-singing Valerie June; and most of all, from country-music-making women such as Ashley Monroe, Caitlin Rose, Kacey Musgraves, and Brandy Clark. Clark’s 12 Stories possesses the kind of narrative and melodic drive that characterizes the best country music of ANY era.

    BRANDY CLARK, WHAT’LL KEEP ME OUT OF HEAVEN

    Hiphop yielded some engrossing young wordsmiths this year with the release of Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, Danny Brown’s Old, and Chance the Rapper’s often brilliant Acid Rap. But the guy to grapple with, for now, remains Kanye West, who continues to be wily, controversial, ridiculous, and amazing. I’m still finding new things to listen to in his album Yeezus, on a song such as “Black Skinhead.”

    KANYE, BLACK SKINHEAD

    Among veteran music acts, there were a number of substantial new releases this year. Not resting on their laurels but enriching their legacies were David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Daft Punk, and Superchunk. The latter released some of the best pop-inflected hard-rock this year.

    SUPERCHUNK, ME AND YOU AND JACKIE MITOO

    I’d also like to mention my favorite OLD music this year. Two releases stand out: Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul, contains cool music from the 1960s featuring early work by producer Kenny Gamble and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, among many others, and I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel from the Nashboro Label 1951-1983, a staggering anthology of R&B-powered gospel music that works on you like spiritual rock & roll.

    So here are my Top 10 albums of the year:

    Jason Isbell, Southeastern

    Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

    Superchunk, I Hate Music

    Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, Bakersfield

    Kanye West, Yeezus

    Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob

    Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose

    The Mavericks, In Time

    Robbie Fulks, Gone Away Backward

    Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park

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    best of 2013

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  1. Ken Tucker reviews two very different interpretations of holiday cheer:

    New collections of Christmas music are already being released. Kelly Clarkson's recently released Wrapped in Red debuted at No.3 on the Billboard Top 200, while Nick Lowe's new one, called Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All the Family, finds him mixing traditional songs with new ones he’s written or co-written with Ry Cooder.

    Ken Tucker says that Lowe’s album, “Wins this year’s genially eccentric holiday music award, with jazzy, folky performances,” whereas Clarkson’s album is a “Glossy, but heartfelt work.”

    See what you think, hear the review and samples from the album HERE.

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    holiday music

    ken tucker

    nick lowe

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    christmas

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  1. Ken Tucker reviews Brandy Clark's debut album:

12 Stories is one of those rare albums whose every song is worth hearing — every one is that striking, that textured and finely detailed. It is my fervent hope that Clark, who’s helped other women achieve hit singles — Miranda Lambert , The Band Perry and Kasey Musgraves to name a few — will have her own hits from among these smoothly crafted, emotionally rough compositions.
View in High-Res

    Ken Tucker reviews Brandy Clark's debut album:

    12 Stories is one of those rare albums whose every song is worth hearing — every one is that striking, that textured and finely detailed. It is my fervent hope that Clark, who’s helped other women achieve hit singles — Miranda Lambert , The Band Perry and Kasey Musgraves to name a few — will have her own hits from among these smoothly crafted, emotionally rough compositions.

  2. fresh air

    brandy clark

    ken tucker

    country

    nashville

    miranda lambert

    kasey musgraves

    the band perry