Tanya’s third release for Capitol, in 1988, showed no signs of a creative or commercial slowdown, even though she finally admitted that year that she had alcohol and cocaine addictions, and went into rehab.
Strong Enough To Bend is one of my favorite Tanya Tucker albums. Produced as before by Jerry Crutchfield, it features some very good songs, and shows Tanya at her best vocally. She commits 100% even to the less stellar material. For some reason it was recorded in the Bahamas, but the usual top Nashville session musicians were imported to play on the record.
The title track and lead-off single, written by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Don Schlitz, was a charming piece comparing a lasting relationship to a tree which bends in the wind instead of breaking:
“Sway with the wind ’til the storm is gone
Like a tree out in the back yard
That never has been broken by the wind
Our love will last forever
If we’re strong enough to bend.”
It is the kind of song which might sound sappy performed by a more sentimental singer, but Tanya tackles it briskly enough to let the message sound rooted in experience. It was to be Tanya’s last #1 hit.
Tanya took a completely different approach in the track which was picked to follow it on the charts, the positively raunchy ‘Highway Robbery’. This semi-novelty song has Tanya stopped from speeding and claiming the (perfectly good) excuse that she was doing it only so she could hunt down the hot blue-eyed guy who “stole my heart from a moving car” when he passed her some miles back down the road. “He oughta do time in my arms for what he’s done”, she claims, evidently to no effect, as by the fadeout at the end of the song she’s abandoned him in favor of making eyes at the (lucky?) patrolman. The story is entertaining if silly, but too heavily produced for my taste, but was a big (#2) hit. Also successful despite being very over-produced was my least favorite track, the boring and pop-sounding ‘Call On Me’, which reached #4.
The final single released from the album, the touching ‘Daddy And Home’, was less successful, but is actually the highlight of the album. Altough it is not typical of Tanya’s best-known material, it is one of her finest moments artistically. It is a beautifully restrained and tender take on an old Jimmie Rodgers classic about homesickness and a child’s love for an aging father, which Tanya dedicated to her own father, a major influence on her career.
Also nicely showcasing Tanya’s tender side is the wistful ballad ‘As Long As I’m Dreaming’, written by members of Alabama, and she sounds genuinely vulnerable on the pretty piano-led ballad ‘Playing For Keeps’, although the song is not as good as Tanya’s performance of it. The opening track ‘You’re Not Alone’ is basically pop-country filler, but well sung and produced.
Tanya has a rare talent for bringing drama to a song without crossing the line into unbelievable melodrama. She exercises that here with ‘Lonesome Town’, written by Matraca Berg and Ronnie Samoset. The song has Tanya playing the part of a Tennessee girl abandoned somewhere in Texas by her rodeo rider lover, with nothing to her name but a locket-chain:
“Oh, the west is gettin’ way too wild
For this Appalachian mountain child
No more rodeo riders –
They just saddle up and ride out of town
His heart is just like a desert
Not a drop of love to be found
In lonesome town…
There ain’t no place for a wildwood flower
In a state where the yellow rose is the object of desire.”
Another of my favorite tracks is the optimistic post-breakup ‘Back On My Feet’, written by Max D Barnes and Troy Seals. The girl in this song may have been left “hurtin’ all over and totally blue”, but she’s well on the road to recovery. ‘Lonely At The Right Time’ also deals with the aftermath of a relationship, as the protagonist gets back together with her unreliable ex just for the night:
“We’ll have the pleasure and forget the pain…
That ‘different tune’ is still the same old song
I know you’re lying but that’s nothing new…
If it breaks your heart that’s not my concern
The bed’s the same, but the table’s turned.”
Overall, this album kept up the standard Tanya had set with her first two comeback albums with Capitol, and it was enough to keep her at the top of the charts. It is no longer commercially available, but cheap used copies are easy to find.