[15 July 2009]
It’s a no-win situation when an established artist makes a cover record, especially of classic songs. If the musician does a good job, listeners give credit to the material. If the music is not up to the originals—songs selected because of their high quality—audiences blame the artist.
Fifty-one year old female legend Tanya Tucker takes on a dozen classic country songs made famous by men like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones on My Turn. Tucker performs them with energy and heart, but it’s a no-win situation. Her renditions do not outshine the previous versions, but she more than competently presents them. The question of whether we really need new versions of old chestnuts like “Lovesick Blues” and “Oh, Lonesome Me” remains incompletely answered.
Tucker has a distinctive husky-throated voice that she uses to make her sound tough with just a small touch of vulnerability. Even as a young teenager, she successfully sang from the perspective of a hard-as-nails persona. That worked well because of her talent and the novelty of being a strong young girl in an adult male-dominated field back in the early ‘70s. Times have changed (ask Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, etc.), but Tucker has not, except that now she’s a middle-aged woman. Her voice still sounds very much the same as it did when she was young. That gives a timelessness to these recordings, a feeling that is complemented by Pete Anderson’s traditional honky tonk production values. In many ways, these songs closely approximate the more famous renditions.
The best songs here have a fast tempo and a hard beat because they allow Tucker to swagger. Consider her version of “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” originally popularized by Charley Pride, which features Flaco Jimenez on accordion. The switch in gender allows Tucker to get sassy (“Any place is all right / As long as I can forget I have ever known him), and she sings the line with glee. She’s clearly not going back no matter how much her ex misses her. Even hard times are better than the time she spent with her former lover.
The softer, slower songs seem less sincere. She copies Eddy Arnold’s style on “You Don’t Know Me” (joined by Rhonda Vincent on harmony vocals) and the effect comes off as stilted. She doesn’t seem convincing as the person too afraid to express herself and declare her love. The mid-tempo songs, like Ray Price’s hit “Crazy Arms”, allow her to express loneliness and other deep feelings without coming off as a wuss. The stormy emotions come across in the way she lets her voice break, but Tucker never lets herself be overwhelmed.
Tucker’s compelling as the hard drinking woman who turns Faron Young’s “Wine Me Up” into a barroom anthem or even as the happy partner on Buck Owen’s “Love’s Gonna Live Here Again” (done as a duet with Jim Lauderdale). She sounds like she’s enjoying herself on these songs and her pleasure is infectious. That’s the best reason for listening to this record. Tucker makes you want to sing along with her on these familiar chestnuts.