“The Return of Tanya Tucker with Brandi Carlile” SXSW Movie Review
Celebrity comebacks don’t often go exactly as planned, but it helps when the planner is someone with the same talent for military precision. and as broad a sense of the big cultural picture as a Rick Rubin or a Brandi Carlile. Rubin, of course, transformed Johnny Cash from a casino relic into something of a god with the records he produced for Man in Black in the 90s and 2000s, and Carlile came up with the idea that she could do something like that with her. own personal heroine, Tanya Tucker, in 2019. There was at least one critical difference, however: Carlile, unlike Rubin, was thinking of hiring a director and film crew the day before recording began.
The end result of this foresight, “The Return of Tanya Tucker, Starring Brandi Carlile”, documents how well it went when Carlile and Shooter Jennings more or less coerced Tucker into letting them produce an album for her while the 60-year-old singer hadn’t even been in a studio to cut new material for 17 years. There’s not much suspense as to how it’s going to turn out, the country music veteran – who became a star at 13 – has finally won her first Grammys. There are remarkably few serious setbacks along the way to achieving the career payback Carlile envisions for Tucker early on. But a keen sense of drama isn’t exactly necessary when it comes to the fun of hanging out with two such strong musical personalities in what amounts to a two-handed documentary, fully justifying branding the young artist’s name. on the title of the film as an awkward but appropriate addendum.
Younger generations of musicians have not always seen fit to pass the torch, although there have certainly been other examples over the past two decades, such as Jack White who has made it his mission to revive Loretta Lynn . However, it is easy to imagine some hesitation in this process: in the presence of a legend who has not always looked after his own interests, what is the balance between being intimidated and cracking a whip? Carlile just seems to have a natural instinct to push softly amid the applause as she meets her childhood role model for the first time on the first day of sessions for the ‘While I’m Livin’ album at Sunset Sound Studios. Hollywood.
She quickly creeps into the vocal booth, where she stays with Tucker for an entire week of recording, leaving her co-producer, Shooter Jennings, to handle everything in the control room. It’s as close as anyone could come to a recording studio to having an attentive bedside manner without literally squeezing a double mattress and headboards into the booth. But when the album is done and Tucker wants to go back and digitally hit a climactic high note on single “The Wheels of Laredo”, Carlile puts his foot down: “If we ever make another album, you can hit the hell of this one,” she says. But “this album is like a photograph that you can’t go back to and change what you were wearing because you don’t like bell bottoms.”
It’s the season for people who enjoy flying recording studio movies, obviously, and “The Return of Tanya Tucker” is almost a bit like the anti-“Get Back” in that it documents sessions where everything that could go right does. But the doc doesn’t get boring just because things get so nice. Carlile happens to be a very good Tucker interviewer, and it’s clear that the “radical empathy” she advocates in her own music and career is something she practices in real life, on the one hand. way unworthy of the narcissistic profession of rock star. It’s possible she interviewed Tucker strictly for the cameras, knowing it would provide the perfect opportunity for director Kathryn Horan and editor Brady Hammes to use those moments to cut their archival finds to illustrate the plot. background of the subject – which they do very effectively.
But as a producer, she has other reasons to ask Tucker about his life. One of the differences between “While I’m Livin'” and the “American Recordings” albums that Rubin did with Cash is that it’s more personal, less stunt-like. Instead of having Tucker record iconic covers from his usual wheelhouse, Carlile and his bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth wrote a selection of original material based on what they knew of their subject’s life. Even in the studio, Carlile asks Tucker about his regrets in his relationship with his late father, then writes it into a new song, “Bring Me My Flowers”, almost on the spot. The sidekick presses his hero for more details so Tucker can get in touch with his emotions of life in the cabin. Or, maybe she’s just seriously fan-girling…but it works both ways.
You might wish the movie spent at least a minute or two more on such a fascinating parallel topic as exactly what it was about Tucker that made the seemingly heteronormative star so close to a young lesbian discovering herself in Washington in the 80s. Tucker comes across as such an adorably tough cookie, however, some of this stuff might not be that hard to figure out just from the moxie of a lifetime. Interestingly, when Carlile asks Tucker to name his female role models, although we know she has some (Loretta Lynn makes an appearance in the film), the eldest singer can only think of Elvis Presley. She invokes it again when describing why she gave up wearing country music-enforced dresses early in her career: “I can’t imitate it – I can’t make songs about burning love – in a dress.” This unwavering spine is part of the reason why, even for a documentary that derives some value from mentioning Carlile in its name, Tucker still gets his name on top as well as in the title.