Kathlyn Horan’s intimate and engrossing documentary focuses on the comeback of an icon.
After stirring up a ruckus last spring at the SXSW Film Festival, where it was aptly described by critic Sheri Linden of The Hollywood Reporter as “a fittingly unconventional portrait of a nonconformist,” and screening as the opening night attraction at the 53rd annual Nashville Film Festival in September, director Kathlyn Horan’s The Return of Tanya Tucker — Featuring Brandi Carlile is scheduled to open in theaters nationwide this weekend.
The exceptional and stirring documentary gets up-close and personal with the iconic country music singer during the 2019 recording of what she calls her “relaunch,” the Grammy Award-winning album “While I’m Living’.” Co-produced by Brandi Carlisle and Shooter Jennings, who appear along with several other familiar faces in the film, it is Tucker’s first album of original material since 2002, and features, among other terrific tracks, “Bring My Flowers Now,” winner of the Grammy for Best Country Song of 2020.
“And I don’t know really how it happened,” Tucker told C&I in 2019. “I was talking with Brandi Carlile the other day, and we were discussing that. And I said, ‘Man, it’s just like, the only way I can explain it is God pushed you off a cloud somewhere and you fell into my lap.’ I mean, here’s this girl whose career is blowing up. Like, she won three Grammys this year. And she’s over here messing with me.”
But wait, there’s more: Carlile’s involvement didn’t end with the recording session. “It’s continued, with videos and doing shows,” Tucker said. “She’s got her fingers in all the pies. And thank God for that. It’s not like she’s forcing herself on me. I say it with gratitude that she is involved and has such a different vision than the normal producer might. I mean, she has a different look at it and at my whole career. Her take is so different, but she’s just so right on, and she’s involved with who takes pictures at photo shoots, and radio interviews. I don’t know how she does it with her career going as great as it is. But I know that I’m busier than ever right now. I mean, it’s just like I went from a standstill to a full-out run, and it amazes me that this all happened.”
Still, The Return of Tanya Tucker reveals how, even with Carlile and Jennings in her corner, Tucker had moments of self-doubt throughout the recording sessions — and at one point, her later-than-usual late arrival left Carlile hard-pressed to hide her nervousness. On the flip side: The documentary also gives us a fascinating glimpse into the creative process, as “Bring My Flowers Now” gradually evolves from a random lyric to a full-fledged instant classic.
“I was up and out of the studio,” Tucker told C&I in 2019, “and the record came out before I knew what hit me, really… [It] was a real special time being at the studio.
“And no fixes, no overdubs,” she added with equal measures of pride and amusement. “That’s right. Hey, hey, hey! No overdubs! I didn’t get to fix nothing, you understand? So what you’re hearing is the raw deal. It’s like I’d walked in and sung it — and now you’re listening to it.”
Here is the video for “Ready As I’ll Never Be,” the end-title song The Return of Tanya Tucker — Featuring Brandi Carlile, written by Tucker and Carlile.
Note: The legendary Loretta Lynn passed away after the completion of The Return of Tanya Tucker — Featuring Brandi Carlile, making those scenes in the documentary where Tucker expresses her deep affection for Lynn, and performs at her dear friend’s birthday party, all the more poignant. Tucker paid tribute to the Country Music Queen last week by singing “Blue Kentucky Girl” during the live CMT telecast of Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Loretta Lynn.