EAR BLISS by Boudin Dan
Just two weeks after its release in late August, the comeback album called While I’m Livin’ from once-upon-a-time badass lady outlaw hitmaker Tanya Tucker was riding high making it into the Top 10 on the Billboard Country Album Sales chart. Not too shabby for an artist releasing her first album in 17 years. Not surprising, the album at the same time also hit the top position on the “big-tent” Billboard Americana Sales Chart which given its artist mix of up-and-comers, long-time troubadours, and those whose music no longer fits the standard genres makes more sense. Whereas album sales here in the digital/Spotify age do not carry the weight they once did, Tucker’s fete is noteworthy for a lot of reasons and most notably her being a recently christened 60-something in a country music world where the demographic is much younger and highly male nowadays. Her new album is in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week along with the latest album from singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell and her fine band called Gypsy. An album squarely in the roots music vein, it is a seasoned work that also offers some pointed commentary from the female perspective. Let’s get to it.
While I’m Livin’
17 years between records is a long time, especially for an artist who came out of the gates as fast as Tanya Tucker did almost five decades ago hitting pay dirt beginning in 1972 as a 13-year-old with the smash hit “Delta Dawn.” By the mid-1990s, the star of the legendary outlaw country lady was fading. She was only in her mid-30s. During her peak period, Tuckerpersonified in both song and real life the live-fast-love hard-die-young ethos personified by late country great Faron Young in a song of the same name. It was most notably marked by her relationship with Glen Campbell. Now on the verge of turning 61, Tucker is back with her first album of original material since 2002 called While I’m Livin’. Produced by the team of Brandi Carlile and Shooter Jennings, it’s a highly admirable comeback with Tucker’s performance as if she never missed a beat. While her ever-distinct voice is a touch on the ragged side in spots, she nails it on this album. The songs, most all Carlile had a hand in writing, are biographical in nature. They range from “The Day My Heart Goes Still” about Tucker’s love for her late father to “Mustang Ridge” about her rough-and-tumble childhood in central Texas to the moving album closer “Bring My Flowers Now” which is the only tune co-written by Tucker. Says Carlile, “It’s a musical biography of sorts about Tanya’s real life and the places she’s seen, and it’s narrated by the greatest country and western singer this side of Johnny Cash.” That would be Tucker herself and she shines in the starring role on While I’m Livin’. Visit www.fanstasyrecords.com.
Signature Sounds Records
The transformation of singer and songwriter Eilen Jewell over the course of what is now eight albums with the recently released longplayer Gypsy has been an interesting one to watch. It begins in 2006 and her first full album called Boundary County. From her songs to her singing to her always tight backing band, potential aplenty was displayed. Here in 2019, we have a highly seasoned Jewell with the album Gypsy. Now 40 and married with a young child and plenty of touring miles under her belt, not to mention life miles what with motherhood and all, the view is obviously a bit different. Priorities have shifted and that is sensed in her songwriting and the confidence of the presentation of the dozen songs comprising Gypsy. This is a band that is no doubt comfortable in its shoes out to impress first and foremost, themselves. As a woman and a mother, Jewell’s viewpoint has also changed as she both cleverly and coyly demonstrates on the song “79 Cents (The Meow Song)” which is a double jab at the inequality in the workplace for women and our Commander-in-Chief’s infamous travails with the ladies. While it is a humorous ditty, Jewell is dead on in message. What is no different from past albums is the country swing, honky tonk, rockabilly, and rootsy blues foundation the band has built its sound on over the years. Long-timers Jason Beek on drums and harmony vocals (and also Jewell’s husband) and guitar ace Jerry Miller make for a lock-step combo. In particular, Miller, who once upon a time was lead guitarist for Rhode Island rockabilly legend Jack Smith, continues to creatively dazzle on guitar with no style out of reach. It all makes for an album in Gypsy which is a fast-moving and thoroughly enjoyable affair. Visit www.signaturesounds.com.
Eilen Jewell appears at Narrows Center for the Arts located at 16 Anawan Street in Fall River, MA on Saturday, October 19. Show time is 8 pm.
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.)