Had she chosen to retire from the music business around 1990, Tanya Tucker could have done so knowing that she’d secured her musical legacy. By then she had been a presence on the country charts for nearly two decades, had released 20 studio albums, and secured 30 top 10 hits, including ten #1’s. She was also the “last woman standing”, the only artist who had been having top 10 hits in the early 70s to still be regularly reaching the top of the charts. No one was surprised that her winning streak still continued, but few realized at the time that Tucker had not yet reached her commercial or artistic peak.
Released in July 1991, What Do I Do With Me is the jewel in Tucker’s musical crown. It follows the same formula as its predecessor, Tennessee Woman , combining radio-friendly, pop-infused uptempo songs with tender, heartfelt ballads. However, this time around the song selection was stronger and that is what makes What Do I Do With Me Tanya Tucker’s masterpiece.
For the lead single, Tucker again turned to her old friend Paul Davis, who wrote the sassy, harmonica-driven “Down To My Last Teardrop”, in which the long-suffering protagonist tells her unfaithful partner that he’s drained her of every last drop of emotion. Tucker took this tune all the the way to #2 in the early summer of 1991.
The next single was the title track. Beautifully written by Royce Porter, L. David Lewis, and David Chamberlain, it tells the story of a woman wondering aloud how she will occupy the free time she suddenly has in the aftermath of a break-up. This is the type of ballad at which Tucker excels. Every line is filled with emotion, yet her performance is restrained and never over-the-top. Like its predecessor, “(Without You) What Do I Do With Me”, just missed the top spot on Billboard’s country singles chart, peaking at #2. This is the kind of song that has been missing in action from country radio in recent years, having fallen from favor in lieu of happier, empowerment anthems.
“Some Kind Of Trouble”, a more blues-infused number, didn’t chart quite as high, peaking at #3. Written by Mike Reid, Brent Maher and Don Potter, this song is more beat-driven than the previous singles, but the lyrics are still quite strong. I suspect that it was probably written with The Judds in mind, given the Maher and Potter connection, and would have likely been recorded by that duo had they still been active.
The fourth and final single, “If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight” is a more light-hearted number written by Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters, that peaked at #4.
Despite producing four strong singles that all performed well at radio, the true highlight of the album is the track “Bidding America Goodbye (The Auction)”, written by Jamie O’Hara. Tucker had recorded the song a few years earlier and had been fighting with Capitol to get it included on one of her albums. This time she finally succeeded. It’s a rare social commentary song from Tucker and it packs a powerful punch. It tells of the plight of an American farmer, struggling to stay afloat financially and hold onto the farm that had been in his family for generations. Then one day, he receives a very polite yet impersonal letter from the bank informing him that they are foreclosing on the property. It’s a fate that has befallen countless family farms across the heartland:
This Saturday morning there’ll be an auction
Underneath a cold, gray country sky.
And while the rest of the nation is still sleeping,
They’ll be bidding America goodbye.
Paul Kennerley, who had penned the hit “Walking Shoes” for Tanya’s previous album, also makes a contribution here with “Trail of Tears”, which finds Tucker warning a male friend not to fall victim to a predatory female.
The remaining tracks, though not as strong as the ones already mentioned, are better than the standard album-filler. Tanya treats each one as though it were a potential single, giving them nothing less than 100% effort.
What Do I Do With Me became Tanya’s highest charting album on the Billborad country albums chart, peaking at #6. It also became her first platinum studio album since 1978’s TNT and secured a Female Vocalist of the Year award from the CMA in 1991. This was a prize that had long eluded her. Ironically, she was unable to accept the award in person, since it was presented on the same day that she gave birth to her son. Shortly after winning the award, she received a hand-written congratulatory note from another legend who had been perennially snubbed at awards shows:
This is something Dee and I have never done — congratulate any artist on winning any award. Also, we purposely waited for a while, so you would know it wasn’t done just in the heat of the moment, although the moment they announced the Female Vocalist award, we almost fainted. Very seldom do these people “do the right thing.” Somehow for once, they got it right …
— Conway Twitty & Dee Henry
What Do I Do With Me proved that on occasion, it is possible to have it all — commercial success, artistic merit, and industry accolades. Almost two decades after its release, it remains one of Tanya’s best-selling albums, as well as my personal favorite in her catalog. I highly recommend it for any country music fan.
Listen to What Do I Do With Me at Last FM.
Purchase the album at Amazon or iTunes