SXSW Review: The Return of Tanya Tucker: featuring Brandi Carlile

Year: 2022

Runtime: 108 minutes

Director: Kathlyn Horan

By Joan Amenn

Tanya Tucker has had a remarkable life and this new documentary shows that her voice remains remarkable, too. While “The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile” (2022) does not delve too deeply into her past, it is a joyful celebration of her present as she continues her prolific career.

The film focuses on Carlile’s and Shooter Jennings’ machinations to get Tucker back in the recording studio. This takes a little doing but eventually, Tucker is persuaded to consider creating her first album in seventeen years. Carlile is shown to be part therapist, part cheerleader to her admitted idol who she promises to be like what Rick Rubin was to Johnny Cash in reviving his later career. She is also incredibly musically gifted and when she and Tucker harmonize together, it’s electrifying. Director Kathlyn Horan did an outstanding job in capturing the little moments of collaboration and creative energy in the studio that reveal so much of Tucker’s inner life.

Cash was of course, a member of the group of country musicians known as the Outlaws. Shooter Jennings’ dad Waylon was another and he considers Tucker to be a member of that family as well. It appears to be very much a family affair in how Carlile and Jennings build a cocoon of security around their star. When asked repeatedly why she took so long to record again, Tucker admits that once her parents passed on she no longer felt the love and support to continue. It is deeply moving to see her emerge from self-doubt to embrace her new little studio family and truly come alive onstage once more.

Perhaps it is because it was her dear friend Loretta Lynn’s 87th birthday, but when Tucker steps up to the microphone to sing as part of the celebration, you can hear the audience slowly lose its collective mind. It is the highlight of the film, even more than the footage of her winning her first Grammy award at the age of 61. You don’t have to be a country music fan to be swept up in the triumph of Tucker’s much overdue recognition. “The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile” is a great reminder that age does not define a person, how they use their talents does.

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