It’s a scenario that’s familiar to every country music fan: an up-and-coming artist breaks through with a traditional record and is heralded as a “savior” that will return the genre to its roots. In interviews, he/she pays homage to Haggard and Jones, etc., etc. Then a few albums down the road, the same artist moves to a more mainstream pop (or at least less country) sound in order to expand his/her commercial appeal. The artist denies doing so, even though it’s blatantly obvious to everyone what’s going on.
Wynonna Judd began distancing herself from country music as soon as The Judds disbanded. It can be argued that The Judds themselves were becoming less traditional with their last two studio albums, but the the process got underway in full when Wynonna launched her solo career. 1997’s The Other Side was a completely non-country album and the same can be said of its follow-up New Day Dawning, which was released in 2000. In Wynonna’s defense, the change in musical styles seems to be less of a crass grab for pop airplay and more of a reflection of her true musical tastes. Unfortunately, her tastes are at odds with mine, which makes New Day Dawning difficult to review fairly. I’ll admit to feeling irritated while listening to it, not so much because it isn’t country, but because it was marketed as country. While artists have every right to experiment with other styles, it would be nice if they would occasionally throw a bone to the country fans who supported them from the beginning by including one or two more traditional songs on their albums. It rarely happens, though, and it certainly does not happen here.
New Day Dawning finds Wynonna working with a new production team — James Stroud and Gary Nicholson — and sharing production duties for the first time. This is not a country album, nor is it an Americana or roots album. It’s mid tempo soft rock similar to what is played on the radio stations playing in the background in any dentist’s office. If you like synthesizers, saxophones and horns, this is the album for you. While there are some country elements on the opening track and the album’s second single “Going Nowhere”, but they are drowned out by the “nah-nah” background vocals. Still, it is catchy and the logical choice for a single. Country radio wasn’t impressed; the single stalled at #43.
Overall, I liked the album’s ballads better than the mid- and up-tempo numbers. “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do)” is a pretty, AC-leaning number that served as the album’s lead single. It seems like an odd choice for a lead single, though, and it only peaked at #31. “Learning to Live With Love Again”, written by Gary Nicholson and Mike Reid is also quite good, and so is “Who Am I Trying To Fool”, although I would have greatly preferred it without the intrusive synthesizer.
The title track is one of the album’s better uptempo cuts — more Memphis than Nashville — but the background vocals sometimes border on bombastic. I disliked the funky “Chain Reaction”, another Nicholson co-write, even though it actually has some fiddle on it. Before I even heard “Tuff Snuff”, I was annoyed by the spelling. It’s a remake of a 1986 song by the blues rock band The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Wynonna’s voice is too husky on this one; she seems to be singing at the very bottom of her register, the complete opposite of her syrupy vocals on her remake of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”. I would not have been able to identify the singer of this song if I hadn’t already known. I intensely disliked the closing track “I Can’t Wait To Meet You”, a spiritual number co-written by R&B singer Macy Gray.
Overall, I did not enjoy this album and I do not recommend it. To be fair, though, it isn’t a bad album, just not my cup of tea. It was Wynonna’s first album not to earn gold or platinum certification and marks the acceleration of the commercial decline that began with The Other Side. The original pressing of the album included a four-song EP of The Judds, which I have not heard but I assume is much better than the main album.