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Ann Powers

The most heart-wrenching country songs employ metaphor like a splash of cold water. They wake you up with a shock; blinking, you see the world just a little bit differently.

The results are in for the first-ever NPR Turning the Tables readers' poll, and they send a strong message to anyone fancying themselves a cultural justice warrior in 2018. It is this: check your intervention.

In the movies, songs often signify absence, or distance, a gap difficult to fill through plotting or dialogue. Entering the space between desire and communion, bondage and freedom, or grief and comfort, songs reinforce the reassuring magic of cinema.

With a little help, Kacey Musgraves has spent the past five years building a new musical world in Nashville. Now, with two new songs from her upcoming album Golden Hour, she's showing the world that she is fully living in it.

Who in the pop world but Janelle Monae could pack dystopian Afro-Futurism, sleek runway style, action sequences, club hotness and tender love into thirty seconds?

This is NPR Music's live blog of the 2018 Grammy Awards. The telecast of the awards show is scheduled to run from 7:30 until 11:00 p.m. ET. We'll be here the whole time, updating this post with every award or performance.

Here's a fact few white American musicians feel comfortable facing: every kind of American music, from Top-40 pop to high mountain bluegrass, has some root in the work and creativity of people of color. Arguments about appropriation surface most commonly when artists are clearly borrowing from well-known sources; Justin Timberlake's decision to repackage his blue-eyed funk in Ralph Lauren-style quasi-neutrals is the latest example of white performers side-stepping the fact that they owe their very souls to black collaborators, acknowledged or not.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today we're remembering a man who transformed American pop music. Jim Burns was not a well-known musician himself. He created the program "MTV Unplugged," and he was the show's executive producer during its original run through the '90s.

When Margo Price wailed, "Let's go back to Tennessee," on her 2016 breakthrough album Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she meant more than her current home town of Nashville. The queen of East Nashville has a long relationship with Memphis, forged through collaboration with producer Matt Ross-Spang, one of the young movers and shakers who's helping put that other mid-South music capitol and its classic studios back on the recording map.

Songs That Say 'Me Too'

Oct 17, 2017

Content advisory: The videos and language below contain strong language and may be offensive to some.

Midway through last night's set at the venerable Ryman Auditorium, Kesha Sebert stood at center stage in a Stetson and a bespangled Gunne Sax-style minidress, armed with a Winchester-style rifle affixed to what looked like an insecticide pump. Her fans, who'd been screaming nonstop since pop star had walked out, to the strains of her own Aretha Franklin tribute "Woman," knew what that canister should contain.

A mysterious photograph appeared across various social media platforms Monday morning, depicting three dashing women — two in cowboy hats, one holding a pair of spectacles — lounging at a wooden table teeming with the evidence of a long night out. NEW BAND ALERT: BERMUDA TRIANGLE, the caption read. Anyone attuned to the Americana scene recognized the one in the middle: Brittany A. Howard, the main rule-breaker in Americana music's most exciting band of this century, the Alabama Shakes.

Maybe contemporary country music will make sense again, now that Shania Twain is back to set the record straight.

The new album Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child) was never meant to be a tribute. Brandi Carlile is far too modest and clear-headed to puff herself up that way.

Styles Of The Times

May 16, 2017

The nominations are in for the 16th annual Americana Awards, to be held Sept. 13 in Nashville as the signature event of AmericanaFest — and in at least one category, they tell a tale of how this progressive yet traditionalist community is rising to the political challenges of a complicated historical moment. Four of the five releases in the Album of the Year category have protest at their core, demonstrating how the genre is stretching itself even as it builds on long-established artistic family ties.

Not much in contemporary music rivals standing under a roof with Chris Stapleton and his band as they raise it in honor of American music. Stapleton ascended to stardom after sweeping the 2016 CMA Awards for his powerful debut album Traveller, but by then the 38-year-old Kentuckian Nashville mainstay had spent a young lifetime in the slipstreams of Southern sound, and already understood how commitment, craft and love can make listeners' preconceptions about what's cool or current fall away.

When Chuck Berry died last week, the music-loving world rose to acknowledge his status as, in Bob Dylan's words, the Shakespeare of rock and roll. The man was 90; people were ready. Jon Pareles, chief pop critic of The New York Times, and David Remnick, editor at The New Yorker, both immediately published lengthy obituaries. Musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Questlove to Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones – Berry's famous protégé – rushed to pay tribute.

Adele broke her Grammy award in half Sunday night. It might have seemed like the careless act of someone with plenty to spare; the 28-year-old powerhouse vocalist has 15 of the music industry's most coveted statues, including the five just presented for her latest album, 25. She did so charmingly, with a characteristic big laugh, and apparently by accident, severing the statue's gramophone horn from its base as she nervously handled it.

"Waiting 4 it," one Lady Gaga fan wrote on her Facebook wall before the Super Bowl halftime show last night. "Gaga, say some s***." The multiplatinum pop rabble-rouser's reputation as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, feminism and general freakery left her with a certain burden of proof as she took on America's biggest annual slice of family entertainment. Would she speak out about the need to preserve civil rights as a new administration already establishing a spotty record on that front reshapes the presidency?

Country music luminary Jessi Colter has only released one album since the 2002 passing of her husband, Waylon Jennings, the Don Was-produced Out of the Ashes, which came out in 2006. Now a second one is due.

Fan fervor is one of the basic building blocks of rock and roll, but it's difficult to recall a rock star as tenderly beloved as is Bruce Springsteen in 2016. There are bigger legends who've evinced louder screams, like the baby boomer Boss's own early inspirations, Elvis and The Beatles.

Early in his career, on some forgotten talk show (perhaps it was David Letterman in 1990), Dwight Yoakam chatted with the host about his birthplace of Eastern Kentucky. Describing the earthen mounds that protected roadways from the elements, he used the word "berm." His interviewer was taken aback. Berm? That's a fancy word for a honky-tonk country singer, he said. Yoakam just laughed. He knew that only the precisely right word, not just "heap" or "ridge" or "barrier," would make his story sing.

The wait for a new Frank Ocean album is over — sort of. Late Thursday night, the reclusive singer unveiled Endless, a starkly minimal multimedia project that does indeed feature new music, but leaves many other questions unanswered.

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