Sweet Western Sound Tour
Tanya Tucker performing songs from her new album Sweet Western Sound, plus all of the hits.
Outlaws. Movie stars. Washed out rodeo cowboys. Songwriters. Fashion designers. Guitar pickers. Real people. Late-night denizens. Superbowl Half-Time shows. Studio 54. Honky Tonks. Sedona. The Opry. Austin. Music City. New York City. Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall. Awards in the ‘70s, ‘90s, and ‘20s, #1 records in every decade but the 2010s.
Only Tanya Tucker can claim a resume like that: one long on living, not judging, creating, not looking back. When 2019’s acclaimed While I’m Livin’ won the GRAMMY for Best Country Album, and its poignant single “Bring My Flowers Now,” not only won Best Country Song but was also nominated in the all-genre Song of the Year category, it was a powerful statement about authenticity, about staying power and about greatness. But that doesn’t always make the follow-up any easier.
Tanya Tucker has seen, done and been places most people can’t imagine, and she’s done it at a pace that would kill mere mortals. A child thrust into stardom with a series of precocious hits, the iconic “Delta Dawn,” “Would You Lay With Me,” and “Blood Red & Goin’ Down,” among them, she then released a pair of wild and brash rock records at 18, then returned to country music in her 20s to ultimately take the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award in 1991. Along the way, she’s been a cutting horse champion, played dives, arenas, stadiums, and the Houston Rodeo, created headlines, and wrung out the absolute last drop out of every moment.
And that approach to living is what makes her new album, Sweet Western Sound (Fantasy) such a tour du force. Building on her collaboration with Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings (who co-produced Livin’), they dug deeper into the caverns and canyons of Tanya’s life. This time the music is bigger and more immediate, the reckonings more profound; but as always, the heart is strong, honest, and willing to tell the truth about it all.
“Kristofferson, Jessi Colter, they know I’m a good person and have a good heart,” she explains. “I didn’t really know them coming up, though I was close to Waylon. It takes a few years maybe to get through the reputation, you know? Was it that bad? I don’t know…” She pauses, then adds with a chuckle, “But I tell ’em all, my bad reputation has made me a damn good living. So, don’t screw that up for me now!”
Only Tanya Tucker could inspire the revered late outlaw songwriter Billy Joe Shaver to leave a tribute song on her voicemail. And only the copper-haired icon would think to keep Shaver’s legacy alive by bookending Sweet Western Sound’s journey through the emotional plains of her life with his acapella homages celebrating her essence.
Though known as a wildcat vocalist, in truth, the Outlaw Myth has always been more attitude than lifestyle. It sprang out of Willie and Waylon’s unique brand of country, one where the spirit is free, the songs and performances melt stylistic rules and laughter abounds.
Indeed, Tanya’s career, and its renaissance comes from a willingness to expose those deeper places, to write her own story and draw on writers who have come to know her intimately. It’s there in the existentialist drifter’s postcard, “Breakfast In Birmingham,” a duet with Carlile, which the 9-time GRAMMY winner wrote with Bernie Taupin. It’s also there in, “Ready As I’ll Never Be,” another slice of irresistible hard-spun wisdom Tanya co-wrote with Carlile. Carlile’s longtime collaborators, Tim, and Phil Hanseroth, contributed “Kindness,” a tender and empathetic acknowledgment of the understanding one only comes to through hard patches, tough fates, and busted dreams.
“For me, songwriting’s a release,” explains the woman nominated for her first GRAMMY at 14. I finally finished “Bring My Flowers Now,” 30, 40 years down the road. My problem is I spit it out, and I can’t retain it. I always tell people, ‘If it comes out, you better get it ‘cause I won’t remember it later.’ Brandi understands that, puts in a few other lines, and remembers things I’ve told her.”
“I’m a Sunday writer,” Tucker continues. “I’m gonna come over and eat some cornbread with ya, laugh, talk a bit and maybe we’ll write a song. If we talk about it, set a time, it’s too serious. The whole idea of ‘Get together at 10 o’clock in the morning,’ where’s the inspiration in that?”
Inspiration for Tucker, Carlile, Jennings, and the assembled musicians was everything. Though sessions were delayed by the increased demand for all three, when they finally reconvened in the studio, their passion was on full display. “I just go in and try to do the best vocal possible,” she adds. “I put all the feeling I can into the songs. My Dad taught me from the youngest age, that’s what you need to do.”
You can hear it in the soulful, “City of Gold,” the gorgeous gospel tune written by JT Nero of Birds of Chicago. It’s imbued in the Carlile/Hanseroth/Hanseroth confessional, life-measuring “That Wasn’t Me,” then it washes over Shooter Jennings’ stately piano in his “Waltz Across A Moment,” which delivers the album’s title in a bouquet of life’s experiences.
“Come and meet me in the shadows of this drunk and broken sound,” she intones on the track, voice all hickory smoke, candle glow, and Spanish leather, “Don’t curse your mind with yesterday, or the love we could have found/ Just waltz across the moment to that… sweet… Western sound.” In a moment, all that she is, delivered. A blessing, a benediction, an embrace, a reason to believe when all’s gone wrong. To know how to hope in the face of darkness is the mark of true wisdom. For a woman still too young for Social Security, it was earned by persevering, by living.
“Letter To Linda,” was taken from an actual letter Tanya penned a few years ago on the news of her hero’s health struggles. “I walked into the Troubadour and heard (her version of) ‘Desperado,’ and it all came rushing back,” Tanya marveled. “I remember the first time I heard Heart Like A Wheel with that righteous combination of country, pop, and rock. It was everything I wanted to do… I only met her once, but I wanted her to know how I felt.”
Powered by a deep well of self-awareness, “The List,” a romping kiss-off Tucker/Carlile composition, is another example of the fire that burns within. With her singular sardonic ‘get in line buddy’ tone, Tanya impales the pettiness of those who think their judgments can hurt more than her own do. “My old friends have heard me say that for years,” Tucker says. “I always know where it comes from, who instigated it, and whatever else. But I’ve always said I don’t care, because I know my list, my self-reckoning is going to be longer and harsher than theirs.”
Stay open, cause sometimes life and art collide in unforeseen ways. “When The Rodeo Is Over (Where Does The Cowboy Go?),” is an elegy for a way of life, but not a man willing to stop living. Against the vistas of Sedona, the old rodeo rider lives out his days smoking cigarettes “he can’t afford” and picking turquoise, an allegory perhaps for so many compadres the audacious artist has come to know. “I was in LA, the night before the first session started. Brandi sent me a song, saying ‘If you like it, we’ll start with it…’,” Tucker recalls. “I gave it to Craig (Dillingham, Tanya’s boyfriend) to listen to. He comes back in a minute, and I asked him, ‘Did you like it?’ and he says, ‘Like it? Hell, I wrote it!’ He’d never pitched it to me, but Brandi did. It’s one of those songs that just stays with you.”
Staying with you is the essence of how Tanya Tucker endures. You hear that whiskey voice, which cuts straight to your most vulnerable places, and you’ll never forget. She’s lived life on her terms, her way, and that speaks volumes for a gypsy soul just looking to sing her songs and let the chips fall where they may. “I’m not a cowboy giddy-up, kind of western movie, like Slim Whitman,” she says of her cinematic journey. “But those kids, those 70’s west coasters in their funky hats and cowboy boots, and jeans? You know, that’s what I relate to, this is a sweet western sound for them…”
“I’ve got a lot to say,” she concludes. “They say praying is talking to God, that meditating is listening to God. And I do a lot of listening.”