Tanya Tucker Brings a Star-Studded Career Retrospective to the Ryman [Review]
The 64-year-old talent was in high spirits as she celebrated the release of her twenty-sixth studio album, Sweet Western Sound, during the last of two consecutive headlining shows. Although the night was technically the beginning of another new era, Tucker kicked off her time on the Ryman stage with an array of hits plucked from throughout her lengthy career.
After rolling through fan favorites like "If Your Heart Ain't Busy Tonight" and "Hangin' In," along with a rendition of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever," a screen hung above the stage showed a teaser of The Return of Tanya Tucker, the 2022 documentary that follows the creation of Tucker's 2019 record, The Way I'm Livin'. The project, which marked Tucker's first new album in a decade, wouldn't have happened without the creative support and direction of Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, who served as co-producers.
Sweet Western Sound serves as a continuation of the trio's close-knit bond, rekindling the magic that helped Tucker start a new chapter in her career. Carlile strolled on stage to perform a selection of cuts from their latest collaborative project, including their first official duet, "Breakfast in Birmingham." A constant supporter, Carlile spent her time on stage letting Tanya soak up the spotlight, gently guiding her through uncertainty over coming lyrics, and pouring love and praise over her throughout the night.
Carlile wasn't the only special guest during Tucker's Sunday night spectacle: Gretchen Wilson made a rare appearance on the live stage, joining in for "Love Me Like You Used To." After, the pair shared a hug and Wilson reiterated her love and respect for Tucker as an artist. She then treated the crowd to a performance of her massive 2005 hit, "Redneck Woman," smiling brightly as she sang the line, "And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song!"
Bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent added a bluegrass touch to Tucker's already impressive instrumental backing as they rolled through "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," "The Jamestown Ferry" and "What's Your Mama's Name." Her final surprise for the night was an appearance from Jelly Roll, who acted as Tucker's hype man, asking the crowd to shower her with applause before performing his recent country radio hit, "Son of a Sinner."
Although these surprises added welcome excitement and variety to the evening, Tucker stood as the show's shining gemstone from the moment she walked on stage. The Way I'm Livin' helped launch a new beginning for her, but Sweet Western Sound firmly reestablishes why she's deserved to be here all along.
The evening ended in a full-circle moment as Tucker, surrounded by her band and special guests, revisited her trademark hit "Delta Dawn." The song that launched her music career when she was just 13 sounded rich and captivating as ever, driven by her unmistakably raw, raspy, nearly incomparable vocal style.
She stayed on stage long after singing the chorus' final reprise, signing autographs and chatting with fans, eager to share a moment with one of the Country Music Hall of Fame's Class of 2023 inductees. Throughout the night, she took many opportunities to reflect on the path that brought her to that moment. Tucker looked back at her personal struggles and the loved ones she's lost along the way while still embracing the joy of where she is today.
"I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for you all," she proclaimed midway through the set, obviously moved by the crowd's response. Instead of getting overwhelmed with emotion, she did what Tanya always does: she just kept singing.