The Return of Tanya Tucker: The New, Old History of Women in Music

Bring my flowers now, while I’m livin’
I won’t need your love when I’m gone
Don’t spend time, tears, or money on my old breathless body
If your heart is in them flowers, bring ’em on


Brandi Carlile is working hard at celebrating a history of women in music. She enlisted Shooter Jennings and together they produced the first new album from Tanya Tucker in twenty years. This summer, Carlile is bringing Joni Mitchell to The Gorge in Washington for her first performance in twenty years. A beloved Seattle musician, Carlile is engaged in important work honoring the women who inspire her. In this documentary about the production of the new Tanya Tucker album, the message comes through loud and clear.

Midway through the doc, Carlile asks Tucker, “who were the women artists who inspired you?”

After an elliptical pause, Tucker says “Elvis,” and it’s all she can come up with.

Well, Carlile was inspired by Tucker, she says. And her project is to make sure a new generation of young women are too. It’s an important job. The documentary doesn’t waste any time exploring why and trying to bring you over to that side. Instead, it is a process-oriented project. Here’s how a late-era album came together as an act of lovely camaraderie between generations of country performers.

In the substance of the material, you also hear a lot about Merle Haggard, and what it brings together is that Tucker exists within that very same lineage. Here, the narrative recenters Tucker as a tough presence, working as a continuation of her body of work. Call it a comeback but remember it was always in her. Just because she took a three-horse wagon and retired from music in the country with her daughter, Presley Tucker, doesn’t mean she was done. She was living a real life so she could sing again. The process is a fruitful one.

Tucker finally gets her flowers now. Her new record wins back-to-back awards at the Grammys: Best Country Song & Best Country Album. This proud celebration of a generational talent documents everything it took to get to those wins. It shows us the sessions where it was hard to focus, where a little Adderall and alcohol broke down the barriers and let her sing without inhibitions like she used to do. It is not a deep character study. It’s more of a hang-out piece. Maybe you’re interested in hanging out with Tanya Tucker, Shooter Jennings, and Brandi Carlile. I want to be a fly on the wall in that studio session. Here is your opportunity to see a legend get her flowers. It couldn’t go down much sweeter.

A couple of months after Tanya Tucker’s win, I got to see Brandi Carlile at the storied Benaroya Hall in Seattle. In a break between songs, she addressed her great love and admiration for Joni Mitchell. She has a soft side she doesn’t show, she says, and that’s her Joni side. There must also be a Tanya side. Well, she said if she adjusts the songs and sings them in the context of her life, as an openly gay woman who sings popular country music, they still strike her as wholly true and deeply affecting. Two weeks after the performance, every kind of show was canceled and we went into COVID lockdown. Just before we went away we all had a beautiful moment with Carlile in Seattle. Now that shows are coming back, Carlile is committed to her next stage of celebrating women and is bringing Joni Mitchell back. Carlile is preserving the future of women in music by showing us their history. When you watch The Return of Tanya Tucker or Joni Mitchell at The Gorge, you begin to see what it’s all about. Preservation is a noble act and we’re going to give women in music their flowers now.


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