Review: Tanya Tucker Shares Her Sweet Western Sound

Tanya Tucker/Sweet Western Sound/Fantasy Records
Four out of five stars

Tanya Tucker can claim one of the most remarkable careers in all of country music. A child star at age 13, she scored a hit with “Delta Dawn,” a song that quickly became an enduring standard and which made her an instant superstar even as a precocious preteen. While success sometimes led to the distraction of drink and a need to confront her personal demons, she’s still managed to maintain her momentum, scoring no less than 23 Top 40 albums and a remarkable string of 56 Top 40 singles, ten of which reached number one. She also garnered numerous awards, including two CMAs, two ACMs, and three CMT awards. When in 2020, she received two Grammy Awards—for Best Country Album for her comeback of sorts, While I’m Livin’, and for Best Country Song, courtesy of “Bring My Flowers Now”—she established the fact that she was back for good. 

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Her new album, Sweet Western Sound, finds her joining forces once again with Brandi Carlile, who not only co-produced the album with Shooter Jennings but also co-wrote and contributed backing vocals. Other notables lend their support as well, among them,  Bernie Taupin, Carlile’s bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth, JT Nero, Billy Don Burns, and Craig Dillingham.

Still, Tucker herself naturally takes center stage, her wizened, weathered vocals adding a certain gravitas to the proceedings as a whole. Consisting mostly of ballads, it takes a reflective tone throughout, with certain songs—“When The Rodeo Is Over (Where Does the Cowboy Go?), “Kindness” and “Breakfast In Birmingham,” the latter a co-write by Carlile and Taupin and featuring Carlile’s backing vocals—seemingly autobiographical in terms of describing her hard-fought existence. Other tracks—“Waltz Across A Moment” and “The List”—take on a soulful sway, the latter infusing a gospel-like feel that’s equally affecting.

There are other tender touches as well, including “Letter To Linda,” a tribute to Linda Ronstadt who Tucker credits as both her mentor and inspiration. The encouragement and affirmation shared with “That Wasn’t Me” bind the messaging to a decided personal perspective attained through reflection and resolve.

The introspection reaches beyond as well. A voicemail-generated rhyme from a close friend, the late great Billy Joe Shaver, opens and closes the album. 

After a career that’s had its ups and downs, Tanya Tucker seems to have simultaneously regained her confidence and credibility. As a result, Sweet Western Sound is all the name implies.

Photo by Michael Franz/ Sacks & Co.

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