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Ann Powers

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.

It's easy to read too much into a hit song. Popular music is made that way: Its surface meanings are broad and inclusive, while its idiosyncrasies are vehement, upheld within a startling rhythm or a novel sample or a highly relatable voice. It's this mix of the familiar and the seemingly unique that allow for pop hits to reach millions of often very different people in ways that feel direct and personal.

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.

Natalie Maines took one look at the wildly cheering fans in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night and knew just what to say. "I like what you're wearing," she coyly remarked. It felt as if the singer could see every Southwestern-print skirt, pair of fringey ankle boots and vintage "Cowboy Take Me Away" t-shirt in the packed arena.

Very few musical gatherings during the crowded summer festival season have been going on as long as CMA Music Fest, which launched under the name Fan Fair in 1972 and now descends upon Nashville just after the heat and humidity set in each June. One of the secrets to its longevity is that it's always been a place where country fans can encounter artists up close; folks who get a bit of face time with their favorite artists, maybe even a hug, are prone to keep coming back.

Somewhere in the back of my closet is a torn photograph from a party in Seattle in 1982. Dig if you will the picture: It's me, in a second-hand chiffon dress that (though the photo is black and white) I'm sure is violet. My hair is a two-toned mass of strawberries and cream, my neck's draped in my mom's big costume pearls; a bracelet of pretend diamonds dangles from my wrist. This is an ordinary look for a college girl with a nightlife obsession in 1982. I'm gazing into a mirror; behind me is my friend Pete, holding the camera, laughing his head off.

The most meme-able moment of Michelle Obama's keynote event at yesterday's South by Southwest conference and festival came when she responded to a question from her friend Queen Latifah by crooning a few bars of the Motown weeper "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday." The novelty of a first lady si

I am a Bowie girl. Not literally: I'm a little too young to have swiped my face with glitter and run out in lime-green platforms to see David Bowie storming through America in 1972 and 1973 with the Spiders from Mars, when he sent queer and alien dispatches across a heartland primed for them by Stonewall and women's lib and the sexual revolution but also feeling the slap of the Silent Majority as the Nixon era lumbered on.

The Year In Pop Music

Jan 1, 2016

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about pop music, where the biggest story of 2015 was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELLO")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

INSKEEP: Adele's "25" may have outsold everything, but it was not the only story. Here is NPR Music's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz.

"Lyrics drove me to country music," said the producer Dave Cobb in an interview we published yesterday about his path from the L.A. rock scene to producing a handful of albums that signal a return of traditional country to Nashville's main stage, including ones by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. "I think maybe what I wanted to do is to find a way to make country records feel like all the other records I adored, but with those lyrics. And voice. I'm always looking for a voice."

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