Tanya Tucker took 10 years off before recording While I’m Livin’, her 2019 album that won the veteran country singer two Grammy Awards last month.
And to hear Tucker tell it during her terrifically loose, thoroughly entertaining show at the World Cafe Live on Thursday, she had no plans for a comeback.
“Merle Haggard gave me a tongue-lashing,” she said, recalling being told off by the fellow country legend (and former paramour). He asked her what she was doing with her life instead of singing for her fans. Her one word reply: “Nothing.”
The former “Delta Dawn” child star, now 61, might still be doing nothing, if not for Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings. The two younger-generation country stars coaxed Tucker back into the studio and co-produced While I’m Livin’.
The great majority of songs on the rock-solid Livin’ were written by Carlile and her bandmates, Phil and Tim Hanseroth. There is one, however, on which Tucker gets a songwriting credit.
It’s “Bring My Flowers Now,” which Tucker sang seated Thursday, after joking she was worried she wouldn’t be able to sit in her skintight leather pants.
The band was dismissed, leaving only a pianist and the singer as she settled into the deeply felt ballad about appreciating life — and wanting to be appreciated — while it’s being lived.
“Don’t spend time, tears, or money on my old breathless body,” Tucker sang in a rough-cut voice, worse for wear after a nearly five-decade career, but still plenty powerful and effectively expressive. “We all think we have the time, until we don’t.”
Tucker spent the rest of evening making the most of her time. She fronted a top-notch, eight-person ensemble including two backup singers, one of whom was her daughter, Presley. On “The House That Built Me,” a tenderly rendered cover of the Miranda Lambert hit, the band was joined by Kaitlyn Raitz, the cellist in opening act Brandy Clark’s band, who referred to her instrument as a “floor fiddle.”
Those two songs were at the show’s subdued center, but the rest of the night was raucous. Tucker carried herself with the swagger of a lifelong star who recorded her first Top 10 hit in 1972, when she was 13, and remained a relevant, consistent country hit-maker for two decades.
In addition to four songs from While I’m Livin’, Tucker surveyed her career, opening with the title track to her 1997 album Would You Lay With Me (In A Field Of Stone) and calling an audible to add the 1997 hit “Ridin’ Out the Heartache” to the set list.
She talked about the pain of losing her parents, and the pleasure of having her career back on track, sharing shots of her signature Cosa Salvaje Tequila with fans, some of whom were wearing “Tanya Mother Tucker” T-shirts. “Music has been my mountain,” she said. “I’ve been climbing it all my life. I’d sound way too corny if I told you everything I feel.”
Tucker’s concert trek is billed as the CMT Next Women of Country Tour. The cable music channel, Nashville’s answer to MTV, recently announced that its video playlists will be split 50/50 between women and men — a proactive policy that strikes a blow in the gender-imbalance wars in a genre dominated over the last decade by puerile bro country acts.
On the tour, Tucker is showcasing various female openers, and Philadelphia won out by getting Clark. The singer and guitarist’s third album, Your Life Is A Record, is due in March. By all indications, it will be of a piece with 2013’s 12 Stories and 2016’s Big Day In a Small Town, with superbly drawn sketches of economically stressed lives, depicted with sharp wit and not the slightest hint of condescension.
With sympathetic backing by Raitz and guitarist Jeff Malinowski (Clark said she met him only two days before), Clark covered Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s “Good Hearted Woman,” and sang empathetic songs of quiet desperation such as “Get High” and “Pray To Jesus” with a light touch and elegant turn of phrase.