A few nights ago, Tanya Tucker was listening to Apple Music at her Texas ranch. She heard songs by her favorite singers including Nina Simone, Gordon Lightfoot, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson — and then she heard herself. The song was “Mustang Ridge,” from her 2019 album While I’m Livin’, produced by Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m so much better now,’” says Tucker, who turned 62 in October. “I feel like I sing better, I sound better. I don’t know, I guess the stars lined up again for me.”
It was a hard-won moment for Tucker, who broke through with “Delta Dawn” in 1972 when she was only 13. At 15, she was on the cover of Rolling Stone. Though she had several hits in the Eighties and Nineties, her music was often eclipsed by tabloid stories about her relationships and struggles with addiction. “She hasn’t been given the respect she deserves because she was a child star,” Brandi Carlile told Rolling Stone in 2019. “As she grew up and fell on hard times, I don’t think she was given the same grace an artist like Waylon and Willie and Cash were given for the times that they maybe didn’t live up to their own standards of healthfulness. She should be lauded in the same way that so many of these amazing outlaw men are.”
While I’m Livin’ was Tucker’s first album of original songs in nearly 20 years. A raw, reflective LP steeped in gospel, it was worth the wait. Tucker and Carlile performed “Bring My Flowers Now” at the 2020 Grammys, where Tucker won awards for Best Country Album and Best Country Song. Rolling Stone gave the album four out of five stars, calling it “a much-deserved course correction from Tucker … part legacy-bolstering roots project, part first-person confessional.” Before the pandemic, Tucker had started a huge tour, which included a celebratory show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in January 2020. Jamey Johnson, Margo Price, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lee Ann Womack, and Billy Joe Shaver all joined her onstage that night.
In an interview for an upcoming story, Tucker made clear that she wants While I’m Livin’ to be the beginning of a long new chapter. “We’re just about ready to get started on a new album,” she says, checking in from her ranch. Tucker says she’s been writing songs, with Carlile sending her new material too. Shooter Jennings is once again involved as well. “[Carlile] sent me maybe a verse and chorus, and it blew me away,” Tucker says. “So we’re on the right track.”
Tucker says she wants to keep the raw approach of While I’m Livin’ on its follow-up. “That’s how I got started with Billy Sherrill,” she says, talking about her first producer. “We made records live. We didn’t do any overdubs.” She recalls cutting the vocals for “Bring My Flowers Now” with Carlile immediately after writing it. “Right as we finished it, we went right to the vocal booth and recorded it. And I said, ‘I wanna fix a few things.’ And Brandi said, ‘No, it is what it is. Think about it as ‘Tanya Tucker the singer, flaws and all. Not the entertainer.’ I said I could understand that. She explains things like I can understand it. So whenever anyone wants me to do something and I don’t wanna do it, they have her call me!”
“All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, was just an opportunity to be heard,” Tucker says. “Not to close me off and not to categorize me — just to let everybody hear me, man. They don’t have to like me, but they might, you know? I’m greedy. I just want an opportunity to gather up some more fans. The more I have, the better I like it.”