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Tanya Tucker is back with a personal new album that's music to her ears

After over 30 albums, 40 Top 10 hits - including 10 No. 1s - and 30 years in the business, Tanya Tucker has finally made the record of her dreams.

"It's the best one I've ever done," declares Tanya of the simply - and appropriately - titled Tanya.

And she has her dad and longtime manager, Beau Tucker, to thank for it.

"My dad always told me, 'The best record you'll ever have is the one that you write and produce yourself,' " recalls Tanya. "He says the world hasn't really heard Tanya Tucker - until now."

Tanya comes on the heels of a five-year absence from radio. But the singer herself has not been taking it easy - far from it. "It doesn't feel like I've slowed down at all," reveals Tanya, sitting in the bedroom of her Southern-style mansion outside Nashville. "Mainly I've been working, doing shows on the road and having a baby. I wanted to spend some quality time with Layla," she says of the 3-year-old daughter she had in June of '99 with songwriter and fiance Jerry Laseter. "I didn't get to do that with my other kids. So I took about a year and a half off and stayed home with her. I'm glad I did it."

The mini-break came in the wake of some legal problems Tanya was having with her label, Capitol Nashville. Unhappy with the way they marketed her last album, 1997's Complicated, Tanya wanted out of her deal and was determined to record and distribute her next record without a label, via the Internet. And once she and Capitol patched things up with a new contract, Tanya was ready to make music again - her way. Capitol agreed to manufacture and distribute her album under Tanya's imprint, Tuckertime Records.

"I wanted my fiance to produce the record," notes Tanya, who also asked Music Row veteran Barry Beckett to co-produce. "I think Jerry is better than anybody in this town, for me. And I told Jerry I wanted to call some of my favorite songwriters and get them on 'red alert' that I was going in the studio. I wanted them to be thinking about me when they were writing."

One of those songwriters, Roger Murrah, was named an executive producer on the album along with Tanya. Roger and Jerry wrote the CD's debut single, "A Memory Like I'm Gonna Be."

"It's an idea that I had been trying to write," admits Tanya, "but I couldn't seem to put it together. So Jerry and Roger took it and in two days, they finished it. It's about a couple breaking up, with the woman saying, 'You're not going to forget me. I'm going to be everywhere you go.' "

Even though Tanya's name isn't on the writer credits, she was involved from the song's beginning to end. "I was staining some bunk beds at home," she remembers with a smile, "and every now and then I'd go listen to what they'd written, put my two cents in and then go back to staining."

Roger also wrote the song "Borrowed Wings," on which Vince Gill sings harmony. "Roger held this whole package together," praises Tanya. "He's a good mediator. Sometimes you have to have mediators to get your point across to people."

And when you're working day in, day out with a producer who's also your fiance, a mediator comes in handy.

Sometimes Jerry and I were at each other's throats," admits Tanya. "But I've had those kinds of relationships all my life, like with my dad being my manager. Sometimes Jerry and I were too close. We were ready to tell each other, 'You walk that way and I'll walk this way, and we'll see how far away from each other we can get.' "

Jerry enters the bedroom, hears Tanya's comment and winks at her. "But she always comes running back," he grins.

"Awww, shut up," retorts Tanya playfully. "It was difficult at times," she candidly admits. "I want what I want, he wants what he wants."

"Well, I want what Tanya wants," interjects Jerry, "but she has to be there - you must be present to win! Sometimes she'd just go shopping right when we were recording. But that's fine, if that's what makes her come back and sing good. And it was always worth the wait."

Though no wedding date was set at press time, the two lovebirds still plan to marry on Tanya's property, in a chapel they'll build with some special helpers. "We're going to build it down by the ponds, at the pavilion where we have picnics," she explains. "It's the perfect place. Marc Alan Springer [who wrote Tanya's hit "Two Sparrows In A Hurricane"] is going to help Jerry with it. We want to get all of our friends to help us build it, as opposed to just hiring somebody. The family will all be involved in it, too."

In addition to Jerry and Layla, Tanya's family includes her older daughter, Presley, 13; and son Grayson, 11. "It's ridiculous how fast they grow," acknowledges Tanya. "Both of them are into horses now. And both of them sing, too. Presley more than Grayson. Grayson sings for my dad, who says he's got a great voice. But he won't sing in front of many people; he's shy."

Presley, however is not shy. When the teenager told her mom she wanted to follow in her footsteps, Tanya was supportive but not coddling. "Just because I'm her mama doesn't mean she's going to slide right in," declares Tanya. "She's going to have to make her own way.

"I was almost Presley's age when I got my first record contract," reminisces Tanya. "It amazes me. I've been onstage since I was 8 years old. But no matter how my kids make a living, I hope they enjoy what they do. That's very important.

"I wish for them what all parents do - I want them to be happy. That's a big want."

As for herself, all Tanya wants is to continue making the music that makes her happy.

"Its funny," she says. "When I was younger, I thought about retiring. But I never really think about it much these days. There's too much to do and see. And as long as people want to hear me sing, I don't know why I'd retire."

"I guess I'll be 85 and in a wheelchair," she laughs, "rolling out there singing to everybody!"