We’ve been featuring Wynonna as our spotlight artist throughout the month of February. So, continuing with that coverage, here is the very first contribution from guest writer (and faithful My Kind of Country reader) Chad McBride.
– J.R. Journey
With her first CD, Wynonna ventured out on her own, but not too far from her roots as a member of The Judds. That CD received great reviews from non-country outlets, such as Rolling Stone, and earned Wynonna her first four top five singles as a solo artist. This CD capitalized on that success by both repeating some of the same sounds but also branching out in new ways. Of the ten songs on Tell Me Why, five would eventually be released as singles, all of which reached the top ten – a feat unheard of at the time. And just a look at the contributing songwriters highlights some top singer-songwriters to emerge in the 90s. In Wynonna’s words from her live CD/DVD, she was ‘on top of the world and at the time’ and ‘some of the top country acts of the 90s’ were opening for her.
While Tell Me Why resulted in all of this acclaim, more importantly, it showcases the first time Wynonna really branched out from traditional Judd’s acoustic country (still showcased with great emotion on ‘I Just Drove By’ here) to more pop/country, blues, gospel, and shades of rock.
The first song and single, ‘Tell Me Why’, did not stray too far from the country rock sound fans had become familiar with after ‘No One Else On Earth’ from her first CD. The second song on the CD, ‘Rock Bottom’, the fourth single released to radio, was the first to really showcase her soulful backup singers, which would become a centerpiece of her live shows to this day. ‘Only Love’, the lush ballad co-written by Marcus Hummon with Roger Murrah features some of the smoothest vocals performed on her early CDs and was another top hit on the CD.
It was on track 4, ‘Let’s Make a Baby King’, that Wynonna really upped the ante and first showcased her full capability to perform soulful, funky gospel, which would become a standard on her subsequent CDs. When Wynonna growled “baby” in the chorus in between the electric guitar riffs, you could hear her further busting out her acoustic Judd’s past with lines like “now we could use a revolution/the world is turned upside down/we need a new direction/we’ve got to turn this whole thing around“. While the song was referring directly to the birth of Jesus, looking back, one can’t help but wonder if it was also the birth of a new Wynonna. This funky sound emerged in other ways on the CD, including the Sheryl Crow-penned, pop-sounding ‘Father Son’, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s rocking number ‘Girls With Guitars’, and the Naomi Judd-written blues number “That Was Yesterday’. For a great story about that song, see the HerStory live CD. All of these songs highlight Wynonna’s transformation to a well-rounded soulful vocalist as well as torchbearer for female empowerment.
However, for me, the emotional centerpiece of the record was ‘Is It Over Yet’. With the full orchestra behind her, the song stuck with me when I first bought the CD. However, at the CMA awards, I will never forget Vince Gill introducing her, and Wynonna literally standing there (in her words, “with her hair jacked to Jesus”), never moving, and knocking the roof off the place with such emotion and just her voice.
It was also with this CD that Wynonna won her first (and only) Top Female Vocalist Award (at the ACMs in 1993). Ironically, Wynonna was not in the audience during that win, reportedly due to back problems, and her mother accepted the award on her behalf. Soon after, news leaked that Wynonna, currently unmarried, was pregnant with her first child. Elijah was born 7 months later. Although other CDs would contain a hit or two, this was the last real peak of Wynonna’s commercial career on country radio.
Listen to Wynonna – ‘Is It Over Yet’ Live in 2005.