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
1:35 pm
Mon August 5, 2013

Vince Gill And Paul Franklin Ain't 'Foolin' Around' With Bakersfield Sound

Vince Gill (left) and Paul Franklin.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon August 5, 2013 2:21 pm

Country-music star Vince Gill and steel guitarist Paul Franklin have teamed up to record a new concept album called Bakersfield. Their idea is to cover hits from the 1960s and '70s by two artists who helped define the Bakersfield, Calif., country sound: Merle Haggard and the Strangers and Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. But this is no nostalgia-fest — it's a vital testament to music that retains energy and innovation.

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Music Reviews
3:56 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Jay-Z Swings Triumphant Then Trivial On 'Magna Carta Holy Grail'

Jay-Z's previous albums include Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint. He collaborated with Kanye West for Watch the Throne.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 4:19 pm

Now 43 years old, Jay-Z has become the Jay Gatsby of hip-hop: a man with a checkered background playing host to endless parties, celebrating excellence, the good life and himself. It's no wonder that he was asked to oversee the music for director Baz Luhrmann's amusement park ride version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's romantic fantasy.

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Music Reviews
12:49 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

Eleanor Friedberger's 'Personal Record' Examines The Little Things

Personal Record is the second solo album by Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 1:29 pm

One major source of pleasure in the music Eleanor Friedberger makes as half of The Fiery Furnaces is a matter of sheer density — the density of The Fiery Furnaces' musical ideas, the thick layers of words, lyrics that operate as dense sounds with meaning to be extracted from them.

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Music Reviews
12:03 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

On 'Yeezus,' Kanye West Sounds Strikingly Self-Aware

Yeezus is Kanye West's seventh studio album.
Guillaume Baptiste Getty Images

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 2:28 pm

Kanye West is having some serious fun with us on his new album, Yeezus, starting with the title; it's a play on his nickname, Yeezy, and his penchant for placing himself just this side of the Son of God in terms of cultural importance. That's just the first clue as to how assiduously aggressive and transgressive West wants to be on this album.

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Music Reviews
12:03 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

Slaid Cleaves: 'Still Fighting' With Smart Lyrics And Stories

Slaid Cleaves' music is influenced by singer-songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
Karen Cleaves Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu June 13, 2013 3:34 pm

Raised in South Berwick, Maine, and residing in Austin, Texas, Slaid Cleaves is no one's idea of a music-industry insider. He writes and sings songs primarily about working-class people and romantics both hopeful and hopeless. That said, it's also not difficult to hear another element of the fortysomething Cleaves' past: He was an English and philosophy major at Tufts, and his lyrics are underpinned by both a fine sense of meter and moral perspicacity.

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Music Reviews
2:01 pm
Thu June 6, 2013

Jason Isbell: Literary, But Keeping An Edge On 'Southeastern'

Jason Isbell's latest album, Southeastern, is personal and intimate.
Michael Wilson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 3:18 pm

When Jason Isbell was part of Drive-By Truckers, his guitar contributed to the band's sometimes magnificent squall of noise, while his songwriting contributed to the eloquence that raised the band high in the Southern rock pantheon. But the group was led by two other first-rate songwriters, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.

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Movie Reviews
12:02 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Vampire Weekend Comes Of Age In 'The City'

Vampire Weekend (left to right: Chris Tomson, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, Ezra Koenig) met while they were all students at Columbia University.
Alex John Beck XL Recordings

Originally published on Thu May 30, 2013 11:02 pm

The New York City band Vampire Weekend has carved out a sense of immaculate melancholy for our era as surely as Steely Dan once did for Upstate New York in the '70s. Characterized most immediately by the earnest, concise, sometimes surprisingly expansive vocals of Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend makes atmospheric music.

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Music Reviews
11:14 am
Wed May 22, 2013

Daft Punk: Accessing Electronic Music's Humanity

Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter are the two men behind Daft Punk.
David Black Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 1:08 pm

I freely admit that, until the new Random Access Memories, I wasn't much of a Daft Punk fan. I could appreciate the craft and imagination that went into creating the French duo's mixture of electronic genres — techno, house, disco — but the mechanical repetitions and heavily filtered vocals didn't turn me on in any other way.

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Music Reviews
12:07 pm
Tue May 14, 2013

Dawes Knows Where It's Been And Where It's Headed

Noah Abrams Big Hassle

Originally published on Sun May 19, 2013 9:27 am

If you heard the Dawes song "Just Beneath the Surface" and said, "Somebody's been listening to their old Jackson Browne albums," you're not exactly insulting Dawes. The band has actually backed Browne on tour — and Browne has sung backup on at least one of its songs — so you could say that Dawes comes by its riffs and phrasing honestly.

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Movie Reviews
11:30 am
Wed May 8, 2013

Natalie Maines: A Country-Music Rebel Rocks On Her Own

Natalie Maines, former singer for the Dixie Chicks, placed the group at the center of controversy in 2003, when she publicly criticized George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.
Danny Clinch Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 3:06 pm

Natalie Maines doesn't hesitate to make audacious moves, and wresting away "Mother" — Roger Waters' hymn to oppressive maternal authority figures from Pink Floyd — is the biggest one on her first solo album. Maines takes the "Mother" from Pink Floyd's The Wall and deconstructs it, emotional brick by emotional brick.

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