If one were to consider Dara Tucker’s appearances at clubs like The Blue Note in New York City or Rudy’s Jazz Room in Nashville, or give her early albums a listen, “jazz vocalist” would be the safe way to describe what she does. But ever since deciding to pursue her love of song professionally in the early aughts, Tucker has been developing a more nuanced view of genre, one that comes from working in a variety of musical traditions over a lifetime.
“I enjoy talking about genre and thinking about genre, because I think it’s important to understand where you fit,” Tucker says. “Especially if you’re dealing with gatekeepers and people who can let you in, you’ve got to be able to talk about what you do, so I don’t resent that conversation, while at the same time, I definitely have to acknowledge that I exist between a few genres.”
Her fifth and most recent album, The Seven Colors, from the Watchman Music Group, explores those places in between genres and where they overlap. Tucker believes this new collection presents a fuller vision of her musical influences than previous albums like The Sun Season (mostly jazz) and Oklahoma Rain (mostly singer-songwriter). That fuller vision includes a variety of song styles and broadens how a listener might think about genre. “I’m really straddling a line between a few things on this album,” Tucker admits.
Those “few things” are original songs drawn from her interest in jazz, but also from blues, musical theatre, R&B, gospel, and other Americana and singer-songwriter traditions. The resulting collection is vocally adventurous, joyful, and eclectic. Listeners can tease out the influences from ’70s female singer-songwriters like Carole King or Carly Simon on the title track, which happily coexist with the country-gospel harmonies of another cut, “A Place Like This.” That gospel sensibility also slides into the opening bars of a keyboard arrangement accompanying Tucker’s show-tune stylings on “Mantle.” “I feel like on The Seven Colors, we’ve been able to make that all live together a little bit better thanks to [producer] Charlie [Hunter] and some maturity on my part,” Tucker says.
Hunter’s guitar work and production on The Seven Colors breathe with airy, open arrangements that leave plenty of room for Tucker’s vibrant, full vocals. “His whole concept was to streamline my sound, to strip away a lot of the artifice, a lot of the things that tend to make some contemporary albums sound a little bit cluttered and don’t really let your voice come through,” Tucker explains. “He’s really a minimalist, and he’s all about creating a groove and just putting some very simple melodic concept or harmonic concept on top of that.”
Tucker developed her ear for harmony around the time most kids start kindergarten. As a child, she and her six siblings sang gospel as part of her parents’ Christian ministry. She cites gospel artists like The Winans and The Hawkins Family as early influences. Her father’s work as a pastor and music minister took them around the country until they settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Tucker attended college, majoring in international business. Though gospel singing had been a major focus in the family’s life, Tucker’s parents, both of whom died in 2014, didn’t envision a musical career for any of their seven children. “My father discouraged us from pursuing music as a career or from studying it formally,” Tucker explains. “My parents didn’t think a lot of the music business and didn’t want that for us.”
Nevertheless, Tucker began to explore songwriting in earnest while living in Switzerland after college. As her interest in making music professionally grew, her desire to meet other songwriters and performers brought her to Nashville in 2004, where she’s been based ever since. Her parents ended up being supportive of her career. The Seven Colors is inspired by their legacy, and by the seven siblings who carry it on, says Tucker.
Since coming to Nashville, she’s shared the stage with diverse artists, including Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers at 3rd & Lindsley. A YouTube video of her cover with them of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” has the highest number of views of all her videos, says Tucker.
“I like what I’m doing. I like where I’ve landed, and I feel like it’s an investment in who I am because while there is always somebody who can out-sing me, no one can say what it is that I have to say.”