BY LESLEY HASTINGS
Last Friday saw the release of Tanya Tucker’s latest studio album “Sweet Western Sound” ( Fantasy Records) and to my mind this country music legend, whose prolific recording career started as a teenager back in 1972 with the single “Delta Dawn”, is making her best ever music right now. And most importantly she seems to be having a total blast in the process!
The resurgence of her career came of course with her Grammy winning album of 2019, “While I’m Livin’” produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, and this latest release sees the trio reunite for another stunning collection of songs several of which Tanya co-wrote this time around. She certainly seems to have found the people who bring out the best in her in every respect musically, not forgetting Brandi’s frequent collaborators and band members Phil and Tim Hanseroth. I absolutely adore Tanya’s more mature vocal delivery these days, she has the ability to convey determination, tenderness and everything in between and breathes life into every word. And her natural talent for perfect phrasing is never up for discussion.
Just listen to the track “Waltz Across A Moment“ with its sparse piano chord accompaniment and I’m sure you’ll see what I mean….it’s a line from this stunningShooter Jennings penned song which advocates putting regrets aside and living for the moment that provides the album’s title . ”Don’t curse your mind with yesterday or the love we could have found. Just waltz across the moment to that sweet western sound”.
The album opens with a touching yet amusing voice note left for Tanya by her hero, the late great Billy Joe Shaver, describing his multi faceted close friend … “she looks like a heavenly angel, but Tanya is meaner than hell“ …. and the complexities of her life continue to be explored on many of the tracks throughout this very reflective, ballad-dominated release. I love the varied arrangements which are never intrusive even when it comes to the more expansive and cinematic accompaniments such as on “Kindness” which was instantly one of my favourites and sees Tanya looking back on the well documented highs and lows of her life and asking to be cut some slack ….. “I’ve been everything there is to be. Come on baby, show some kindness to me”, a world weariness in her her voice the only someone who has really lived can convincingly convey.
This is followed on the track listing by “Breakfast in Birmingham”, a duet featuring Brandi (how beautiful are those voices together!) and one of the album’s more uptempo tracks which examines the bittersweet life of a touring musician, one which both will have experienced first hand and which of course often sees them separated from their loved ones for extended periods, having to grab precious time together whenever possible.
While Brandi is obviously playing a big part in Tanya’s career in recent years, two songs on this release see Tanya looking back with thanks to artists who have inspired and supported her from the start. “Ready As I’ll Never Be” is an ode in particular to those who are no longer with us, the “outlaws and the Opry queens“ who “wrapped those golden arms around the baby of the family” . A particularly moving song in my opinion, possibly the jewel in the crown of this entire album, with the pedal steel and gospel choir adding even more atmosphere .
But there’s one artist singled out for a song all of her own, someone who shaped Tanya more than any other and who she says “ left an unforgettable, incredible stamp on me”. Yes, “Letter To Linda” is addressed to Linda Ronstadt who while unfortunately is unable to perform these days due to health issues, Tanya reassures “rest easy… you already stole the show”.
For me, the most poignant track comes towards the close of the album . “That Wasn’t Me“ sees Tanya in confessional mode, looking back on her past lifestyle and behaviour, much of which she isn’t proud about. It’s an apology to those she hurt along the way, and she wants them to know that wasn’t a true reflection of the real her and that she has changed, yes, “these are better days”.
Indeed, Tanya is definitely back in the saddle musically. To reference the album’s closing track her rodeo is hopefully far from over, despite this album appearing to be her epitaph at times, and I’m sure that along with many of her fans old and new, I’m intrigued and excited to see where her next ride will take her. I still have my fingers crossed that part of that journey will bring her back to the UK after her last scheduled visit was cancelled.
“Sweet Western Sound” Track List
1. Tanya (written by Billy Joe Shaver, Tanya Tucker)
2. Kindness (written by Tim Hanseroth, Phil Hanseroth)
3. Breakfast In Birmingham featuring Brandi Carlile (written by Brandi Carlile, Bernie Taupin)
4. Waltz Across a Moment (written by Shooter Jennings)
5. Ready As I’ll Never Be (written by Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker)
6. The List (written by Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker)
7. Letter To Linda (written by Tanya Tucker, Shooter Jennings)
8. City of Gold (written by JT Nero)
9. That Wasn’t Me (written by Brandi Carlile, Tim Hanseroth, Phil Hanseroth)
10. When The Rodeo Is Over (Where Does the Cowboy Go?) (written by Billy Don Burns, Craig Dillingham)