What does time mean to you? For something so universally definable, it’s spectacularly malleable to each of our own experiences, dragging hours into days, months into decades. Tanya Tucker certainly has cause to experience it differently from most, having scored her first hit at 13 years-old with ‘Delta Dawn’.
On Sweet Western Sound, her excellent new album that follows on from 2019’s Grammy-winning While I’m Livin’, the nostalgic and wizened ten song set would have you believing the grim reaper is truly thumping on Tanya’s door. Not quite. At only 64, the 2023 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee has a clear longevity with which she’s continued to perform and create country music – and which seemingly lends her this gravitas to sing as though she really is on borrowed time.
Then there’s that voice, the true hurricane-blown definition of ‘weathered’ that turns every song into a lesson worth listening to. On the mournful ‘Ready As I’ll Never Be’ she reflects on lost friends and honours those who embraced her as a young performer, commemorating “all you outlaws and the opry queens, they wrap those golden arms around the baby of the family”.
In fact a true outlaw, the late singer-songwriter Billie Joe Shaver, gets perhaps the greatest tribute as the narrator of voicemail-generated opening track ‘Tanya’, where he warbles “the glow from the light all around her shows off her beauty so well / She looks like a heavenly angel but Tanya is meaner than hell”. It’s a close second for Opry queen Linda Ronstadt, whose influence on Tanya’s sound is heralded on ‘Letter To Linda’.
The fact is, Tanya Tucker is country music. Her reverence for it is clear on the gorgeous, piano-led ‘Waltz Across A Moment’, where she sings “just like the California sun I think I’m going down / Come and meet me in the shadows of this drunken broken town / Don’t curse your mind with yesterday or the love we could have found / Just waltz across the moment to that sweet western sound”.
Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings return as producers, their retro touch wisely light enough to let Tanya’s voice remain the star, but their presence unmissable, with Brandi Carlile still Brandi Carlile-ing as much as ever. No matter how far down her backing vocals are turned, or the echoes placed upon them, they remain unmistakably her’s. She joins Tanya for a duet on ‘Breakfast in Birmingham’, co-written by Carlile and Bernie Taupin, whose lyrics remain as poetically random as ever.
Closing track ‘When The Rodeo Is Over (Where Does The Cowboy Go?)’ is filled with images of dust-covered buckles, rusted spurs and blown-out knees. And where will Tanya go? For now we’ve got everything we want from a Tanya Tucker record, skilfully treading the line between reflective and sentimental. This album certainly seems to carry its predecessor to its conclusion, but with over fifty years of success in the business we trust that Tanya will continue to plough on down the road, collecting stories as she goes.