Ann Powers

This week, Bob Dylan's first album of new music in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, rose to No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart, making him the first ever artist to have a Top 40 album in every decade since the 1960s. But Bob Dylan is not alone in making vital new music well into what some might call his "retirement" years.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

YouTube

When I think about the screen images that startled me into a new way of thinking, one always surfaces first.

"Say their names," the signs read in the streets of America. In 2020, one reckoning shares an unstable boundary with another as protesters masked against the coronavirus expose a different kind of deep debilitation: the racism that permeates American history and the present day, resulting in sudden deaths now recorded and shared on social media, but always present within history, from the arrival of enslaved Africans on the Virginia Coast in 1619 onward.

Even in the best of times, many look to live music as a crucial resource — a place to turn for comfort, community and relief from anxiety — and can scarcely imagine their lives without it. For the past few months, the coronavirus pandemic has closed down venues around the country, and it's hard to picture when gathering in nightclubs or amphitheaters will be deemed safe again.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The last decade of music saw major artists break many of the rules about how to release an album. Beyoncé and Drake popularized the "surprise release" — putting out albums with little to no roll-out at all. So in the era of surprise digital drops, and at the beginning of a new year of music, how do you make predictions about what's coming?

When Brandi Carlile decided to perform Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue in its entirety at Disney Hall – the primary home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the site of many classical music premieres — one reason was to remind the audience of the 75-year-old's near-singular status among popular musicians of the past half-century. "We didn't live in the time of Shakespeare, Rembrandt or Beethoven," she said before she began her October 14 performance. "But we live in the time of Joni Mitchell."

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. When music historians talk about the pillars of American popular music, they sometimes neglect half the population. Women are too often excluded from this conversation. NPR Music has been trying to offer some balance through an ongoing series called Turning the Tables, and Season 3 begins today.

YouTube

The first single from Madonna's upcoming Madame X suggests that the doyenne of dance pop is making canny decisions in her 60th year.

Last night in Nashville's CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies' work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.

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

NOEL KING, HOST:

We are heartbroken to report this morning that the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has died at the age of 76 years old. Ann Powers is with me now. She's NPR's music critic and correspondent. Good morning, Ann.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Good morning.

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.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to notice a cultural sea change. At first, there's just a little, unexpected turn in the tide. But then, whoosh! The new current takes over, and old preconceptions are swept away. Country music seems to be in the middle of this process now.

I fell in love with Bruce Springsteen for his swagger. It was ridiculous and offered so much hope. Here was a bony dude with the worst haircut ever, who wore T-shirts covered in holes — seriously, he looked like the fry cook at the amusement park where I worked as a counter girl in the summer — making music as big as the known universe.

Pop singer Donna Summer, whose long career began in the 1960s and reached its apex in the disco era of the '70s, died of cancer on Thursday at her home in Naples, Florida. Summer was 63 years old. According to Billboard magazine, the singer born LaDonna Gaines had 32 singles that charted in the Hot 100. Fourteen of them made it into the top 10. To hear Sami Yenigun's appreciation of Donna Summer's life and career, as heard on All Things Considered, click the audio link.

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Mumford and Sons' "The Cave."

This Sunday the annual Grammy Award winners will be announced. One of the biggest categories is Song of the Year, which goes to a songwriter. Every day this week, we'll give you a little intel on one of the nominees. Today, Bon Iver's "Holocene."