Well, well, well…it looks like my luck has finally changed.
August has been a pretty bleak month for single releases thus far, featuring several major clunkers (“Now You Know,” “Hell Right”) and only one song (by Kip freaking Moore, of all people) scoring higher than a five (and it only got a six). It’s the darkest point of a weird year that’s seen no song score higher than an eight, and it has legitimately made me wonder if I need to get out of the review game because I’d gotten too jaded to enjoy anything anymore.
Enter Tanya Denise Tucker, a long-tenured hitmaker whose journey from 1970s child prodigy to 2010s country icon has become the stuff of legend. Tucker had been mostly silent since the release of her My Turn album back in 2009, but a coalition headed by Shooter Jennings and Brandi Carlile brought her out of semi-retirement to record While I’m Livin’, and the title track was just announced as the second single release:
I’m admittedly a sucker for older artists reflecting on their lives and the lessons they’ve learned, and this song can feel a little cliché and cheesy at points. However, these concerns pale in comparison to the sheer power and presence of Tucker’s vocals, and the production and writing are smart enough to let themselves get swept along for the ride. Without question, this is the best song I’ve heard all year.
The use of a piano to signal the seriousness of a song is practically a meme at this point, but there’s a reason producers keep turning to them: When done right, there’s no better way to add weight and emotion to a ballad. (See: Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl.”) Having only a single instrument to support the vocals can be a risky play, but it ensures that nothing gets in the way of the artist’s message, and the piano here has a surprisingly bright sound that gives the track an uplifting feel. The mix conveys a real sense of satisfaction here, backing the narrator’s assertion that “for the most part, I done good.” While there isn’t much kinetic energy to speak of here, there’s more than enough emotional energy to cover the difference, and the song never feels like it’s plodding or overstaying its welcome. There’s a real spiritual quality to this sound, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to.
Unlike other older artists that have approached this subject (Trace Adkins, Alan Jackson), Tucker has lost a noticeable amount off of her fastball, and she just doesn’t have the range or the breath to reach all of the notes the song requires. Much like Greg Maddux, however, Tucker doesn’t need her A+, early-career voice to succeed:
- The unique vocal tone, stage presence, and abundant charisma that first appeared on “Delta Dawn” is still mostly present and accounted for, and when she hits her marks, Tucker still sounds pretty darn good.
- Being an older artist, especially one who’s lived as…um…exciting a life as Tucker, gives her a ton of credibility on this subject, and her occasional struggles reinforce the idea that yeah, this woman has lived long, lived hard, and seen some…well, stuff, and thus probably knows what she’s talking about. When she talks about some of her regrets while also professing that her life has been good, you can’t help but believe her.
- Let’s be honest, this is Tanya freaking Tucker we’re talking about. Her stature in the industry gives her some extra gravitas when discussing serious topics like this.
Add it all together, and Tucker remains a potent performer who can connect with an audience and share her thoughts and feelings with them. She’s the perfect person to perform a song like this.
The topic (an aging narrator reflecting on their life and imparting whatever wisdom they’ve accumulated) may not be the most novel in the world, but there’s a sharpness to the writing here that makes it a bit more poignant. The metaphors and comparisons deserve special recognition for their insight: I absolutely love the comparison of years to lightning (“they’re bright, and they will never strike again”), and the relation of love to money (and the call not to hoard it and to instead spread the wealth to those you care for) is a thoughtful concept that I didn’t see coming. The family regrets (not being a better daughter to her mother, not telling her father she loved him more) make the song feel exceptionally personal and meaningful, and the call to not wait to show affection to those you love takes the song a bit beyond the “here’s what I’ve learned” trope that Atkins and Jackson leaned on. Sure, it might feel a bit sappy and unoriginal, but when something is this well-constructed, you’ll never say no to it.
“Bring My Flowers Now” is an excellent song and an impressive work of art: Moving and mindful writing, a strong vocal performance from Tanya Tucker that shines despite its flaws, and suitable production that enhances the mood without getting in its way. It’s the sort of song that I’ve been waiting the entire year to hear, and it’s a shame that it likely won’t find any traction whatsoever on country radio. I have no flowers handy to offer Tucker, but I can certainly offer my appreciation for her while she’s still around.
Rating: 10/10. Unless Midland knocks it out of the park with their next single release, the “best song of the year” debate may already be over.