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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Folksy Tanya Tucker Performs by the Numbers

Times Staff Writer

If Tanya Tucker ever ceases to fit as a cog in the Nashville music machine, maybe she can find a new life as an accountant.

The veteran country singer seemed fixated with numbers during her early show Monday night at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana. Actually, she was fixated with one number in particular.

“If this one doesn’t go to No. 1, I guess I’ll just break down and cry,” Tucker said after singing “Highway Robbery,” her latest single. “I’m not used to that. No. 2 just don’t get it with me.”

Tucker probably was just joking. Then again, virtually every time she introduced a song during her hourlong set, she did it by the numbers, pointing out that it had been a No. 1 country hit. Never mind that it would have been more engaging to hear Tucker talk about the memories or emotions that the songs hold for her, rather than their chart positions. After all, it’s results that count--and Tucker is hardly the only performer on the award-obsessed country scene who seems like a schoolchild vying for a gold star next to his or her name.

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With her eye so steadfastly on the commercial prize, it is no surprise that Tucker turned in a proficient but risk-free performance. There were nice moments, like the plaintive “Love Me Like You Used To” and the rock-flavored “If It Don’t Come Easy.” Tucker brought a bitter, mysterious edge to “I’ll Come Back as Another Woman,” a strange, compelling song of imagined vengeance.

The problem was that Tucker tried to be a bit of everything: a bit country, a bit rock and a bit pop. She kept up her image as a coquette by wearing a black leather miniskirt and doing the occasional bump and grind--but she stopped short of being too insistently sexual.

She went in for pre-planned dance steps and calculated Vegas touches, but like most proven country singers, Tucker remained pleasantly folksy--sufficiently at ease with her audience to cadge a cough drop from a fan, or to have a laugh rather than a fit when she had to stop a song after it began in an uncomfortable key.

Tucker has flirted with rock in the past, and with a voice that can be marvelously husky and tough, she could have tremendous impact if she devoted herself to hard-kicking country (it would be something to hear her sing the Tom Petty-Lone Justice song “Ways to Be Wicked). She also could do justice to a traditionalist country sound.

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Instead, having gone through a fallow period a few years ago, the 30-year-old singer apparently is satisfied to avoid taking chances and to go with whatever will allow her to keep introducing her songs as No. 1.


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