Wynonna’s latest album – a covers disc incorporating styles ranging from bawdy blues to elegant pop to Stones-style rock and roll to traditional country – is an interesting and at times inspired collection. Wynonna’s ferocious delivery is front and center the entire time, always reminding us that Wynonna Judd is the owner of one of the finest voices of our time.
The one new song, the brilliant Rodney Crowell-penned ‘Sing’ is without a doubt the album’s masterpiece – an uplifting number with a swelling chorus. The message isn’t terribly original, but lyrics like “Sing it like you hear it/Like you have no need to fear it now/Sing it like you know it/Like you’re not afraid to show us how” put this anthem of empowerment just a step ahead of the dozens of others of the same ilk.
Opening the album is the percussion-driven ‘That’s How Rhythm Was Born’. Her bluesy take on the old Sippie Wallace number ‘Women Be Wise’ is pure ear-candy to anyone with a penchant for torch songs performed to perfection. Likewise, Wynonna tears into the Dave Edmunds cover ‘I Hear You Knockin’, infusing the 12-bar blues tune with those fierce, patented Wynonna vocals.
Another stand-out track is the Doris Day/Nat King Cole hit from the 1950s ‘When I Fall In Love’. Celine Dion and Clive Griffin also recorded it for the soundtrack to the blockbuster Sleepless In Seattle in 1993. Again, it’s the crooning of Wynonna that takes this, an average tune, and turns it into something special.
After nailing ‘Til I Get It Right’, saturating the song with the same heartache-tinged sound of Tammy Wynette, the production fails her on the other two country standards included here. She tackles Merle Haggard’s ‘Are The Good Times Really Over’ with the same straight-country vocals. It’s the backing music that sounds out of place, as strings and a choir of background singers join in for the chorus. She really shines on ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ vocally, but again, this pop-sounding arrangement doesn’t fit the song at all.
One has to applaud Wynonna for ably tackling so many styles on this album, and also for the remarkable vocal performances on nearly every track. But then after you’re finished clapping, you have to wonder why she picked some of these songs. Certainly, Wynonna’s influences are outside the norm for ‘country’ singers – a term I use lightly to describe Wynonna these days. The real flaw with this release isn’t the songs so much as the production behind them. I would like to have heard Wynonna dig a little deeper into her Appalachian roots for a covers album. While listening to this disc, I am reminded of Reba’s Starting Over album from 1995. While that album contains some of the best vocals of Reba’s career, the songs are a selection of pop and rock songs made popular by the past generation of rock stars.
So, vocally, Wynonna never sounded better than on this album, but her choice of song is sometimes puzzling and even boring at times. The production fails her on more than one number, but she’s still able to redeem herself with that larger-than-life voice.
Listen to the album’s title track, ‘Sing’, written by Rodney Crowell.
Visit the official Wynonna page.