In one of her many addresses to the audience, the country legend proclaimed that she’s touring as Tanya Tucker “the singer,” rather than Tanya Tucker “the entertainer,” but both held court at World Cafe Live, and if there’s any daylight between the two, it’s the entertainer who has the edge.
Which isn’t to say that Tucker gave less than her all to her singing. Bookending the show with classics “Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone)?” and “Delta Dawn,” she brought warmth, depth and a lived-in feel to material from her recent While I’m Livin’ such as “Bring My Flowers Now” (a worthy winner of best country song at this year’s Grammys) and covers like Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.”
But overall, it was the whole Tanya Tucker persona that made the show so gosh darn fun—stories about the luminaries she’s worked with, from Merle Haggard’s pep talk/tongue-lashing that brought her back to music after her mother’s death to being the only one who can call Shooter Jennings “Little Waylon”; sharing shots of her Cosa Salvaje tequila with fans in the front row; and even a casually tossed off high kick.
Interacting throughout with her crack band, she rambled mightily and seemed to space out at times on what she was supposed to do next, yet whenever she got around to a song, she fully inhabited it. But whether the best was the gleeful “What’s Your Mama’s Name” (from her 1973 album of the same name) or the determined “Mustang Ridge” (from last year’s comeback), she conveyed both the confidence needed to back up her outlaw country image and the vulnerability of a woman who understands that the rougher patches she’s survived are her own burden to carry—no matter how worshipful the crowd or how shiny the late-career awards.
Tucker wants the love and recognition while she’s still here to enjoy them, and this is her moment to receive them. It may have taken some help from friends like Jennings and Brandi Carlile to get Tucker the fresh material and the younger audience she has now, but she proved she knows what to with all this, and she’ll be damned if she lets it slip away.
Critically acclaimed singer/songwriter Brandy Clark, whose Your Life Is A Record is out next month and whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, opened the show.
—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich