Wynonna & the Big Noise
Wynonna & the Big Noise
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Look no further than the cover art to see this is somewhat of a new beginning for Wynonna. Where once her albums featured only her face, generally in a studied close-up with a Mona Lisa half-smile, this shows the singer with her road band in a far less stilted pose. It accurately reflects the music that is similarly looser and more limber because it’s recorded with her touring group—the slightly misleadingly named Big Noise — instead of polished studio pros.
Although she’s never been away, this feels like a comeback for Wynonna Judd, a singer who at one time was considered one of the finest performers of country pop. There has been a Christmas collection, a set of reimagined oldies and a live release, but this is the first batch of fresh, original material since 2003.
She is only co-credited on one tune, yet these tracks, penned or co-written by veterans Kevin Welch, Chris Stapleton, Julie Miller, Rapheal Saadiq and Timothy B. Schmidt (who assists with his own very Poco-ish “I Can See Everything”) among others, are chosen with care. Husband Cactus Moser, who assisted Wynonna with production, helps. Susan Tedeschi, Jason Isbell and Derek Trucks (who nails a typically electrifying slide solo on the stripped-down, pensive “Keeps Me Alive”) also contribute.
But this is primarily Wynonna and her band collaborating on a set of first-class songs that succeed by sounding far more rootsy, earthy and raw than in the past. For better or worse, the disc is front loaded with its rockers, closing with ballads or slower, swampier fare that dominates the approach and plays to this group’s strengths. There is a sexy yin/yang tug to the sweet “You Are So Beautiful” (not the Joe Cocker hit) where the singer shifts into a restrained mode that perfectly reflects the music. There is subtle spirituality in “Jesus and the Jukebox” and “Things that I Lean On,” the latter partially written by Travis Meadows and one of the finest, most sensitive ballads in Wynonna’s catalog. The closing “Choose to Believe” slithers down to the Delta on an edgy, jazzy tune that brings out the blues in Wynonna’s voice.
Perhaps a better balance of rockers and reflective selections might have made this stronger and more diverse. But those who shied away from Wynonna’s slicker commercial heyday will find this direct, collective style a refreshing transformation for the better. For the rest of us, it’s yet additional proof of her tough/tender, sassy/sensitive vocal prowess and arguably the finest release of her extensive career.