Review: The Return of Tanya Tucker
The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile may be one for the fans but even if you don't like country music, you can appreciate the passion here. That passion comes largely from Carlile, who helps create a new start for the country legend. Detailing the recording of a new album, this documentary is often candid but only occasionally fascinating to someone unfamiliar with these artists.
Filmmaker Kathlyn Horan makes a bold choice to look forward more than back. This means Tucker's decade-long career is told in quick montages, tracing her early beginnings in country music to her present day. A few big moments in her career are highlighted and it does convey just how much of a rebel Tucker was. I didn't feel like I understood her accomplishments but I did get a clear sense she did it her way, even when she came under fire for it.
It is easy to see why Carlile would be such a fan. She is another artist who seems to go to the beat of her own drum, caring less about commercial success and focusing on her music. She and Shooter Jennings are the producers of Tucker's album "While I'm Living," her first music in seventeen years. Carlile hopes her influence can help give Tucker the credit she is due. She is often overlooked in favor of artists like Loretta Lynn but Carlile is clear to point out how influential Tucker is. This is the most compelling element of the documentary, one younger artist fighting for an older artist who deserves a new audience.
While certain moments in the film illuminate the recording process, there is a lack of context that often means we are left to wonder what is going on. The best moments of the recording process that we see involve Tucker breaking out into a powerful song. Her voice has great power to it. After years of smoking, it sounds like no one else in country music.
One can't help but feel The Return of Tanya Tucker is too narrow in its focus. By not giving us a better sense of her full career, it is difficult to understand the significance of this comeback album. I was fascinated by the dynamic of Carlile as a fan and producer trying to give new life to Tucker's future. The collaboration between them is unique. Too often though, the film gets lost in the recording sessions.
Tucker is charming as hell in the film and there is no doubt about the power of her voice. Horan's direction needs more focus however to fully make a casual viewer appreciate Tucker's legacy. Horan also seems to skirt over the inherent sexism in country music that Tucker faced. It seems like the contradiction of how male country artists and female country artists were treated led to her seventeen-year absence from music. That point isn't made clear though and Horan seems uninterested in these gender politics.
Flawed but also endearing, The Return of Tanya Tucker forgoes some interesting ideas in favor of looking forward to a positive future. Much emphasis is placed on a single performance. In the process, Tucker's drinking and other complications are brushed away. I can't fault the film for wanting to praise a country legend but I do wish this dove a bit deeper into her career.