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Album Review: ‘Wynonna & The Big Noise’

8146Wru52WL._SX522_Wynonna & The Big Noise represents a change in direction for Wynonna Judd, a move away from the bland AC of most of her post-1993 albums. It is not a move back towards country, but I have long since given up hope that she will ever release another completely country album, barring another reunion of The Judds. There are more country moments on this album than we’re typically used to, however, and the entire album has more rootsy, organic feel than anything she’s done as a solo artist.

Wynonna’s husband Cactus Moser produced the album. Chris Stapleton and Julie Miller both contribute songs and Jason Isbell provides the duet vocals on “Things That I Lean On”, which I reviewed back in February. That track was one of a few that were released via iTunes in advance of the full album, but it does not appear to have been released as a single. That seems to suggest a change in strategy on the part of Curb Records, which may be forgoing promoting the album to radio and seeking alternate outlets instead. The album definitely seems to have been made without regard to the charts, with Wynonna and the band performing songs that moved them. There are plenty of songs that cater to Wynonna’s R&B/blues roc k leanings, beginning with the opening track “Ain’t No Thing”, penned by Chris Stapleton and John Scott Sherrill, and continuing on with “Cool Ya”, Julie Miller’s “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast” and “Choose To Believe”, written by Kevin Welch and Charlie White.

She sounds like she is truly enjoying herself on all of these, but it is the quieter tracks, the ballads, that are the album’s best moments, beginning with the aforementioned “Things That I Lean On.” “Jesus and a Jukebox”, the most country-sounding song in the collection, is my favorite, with the Celtic-flavored “Keeps Me Alive” a close second. “Every Ending (Is Its Own Beginning)” is a very nice middle-of-the-road mid-tempo number that Wynonna and Moser wrote with Doug Johnson and Billy Montana.

The album’s most commercial track “Something You Can’t Live Without” is a Cactus Moser and David Lee Murphy composition that was a non-charting single in 2013, shortly after The Big Noise band was formed. It reminds me of some of Wy’s early solo efforts, although at five minutes and 33 seconds, it is way too long (presumably an edited version was sent to radio) and it begins to drag a bit after a while.

I haven’t been a huge fan of much of Wynonna’s solo work but this album was a pleasant surprise. Moser seems to have helped her find her niche. I look forward to their future projects together.

Grade: B+

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Spotlight Artist: Wynonna

111167610Fun Fact: In an interview with Dan Rather, Wynonna admitted it was her record label that decided on her one name moniker. The marketing strategy was meant to separate her solo music in record stores. Consumers would find Judds under ‘J’ and Wynonna under ‘W.’

Following the conclusion of The Judd’s farewell tour in December 1991, all eyes were on Wynonna as she prepared to launch a solo career. It was just over a month after the tour concluded that she took to the stage at the American Music Awards and unleashed “She His Only Need,” her first solo #1, upon the world for the first time. Three more chart toppers would follow including her signature hit, “No One Else On Earth,” a horn drenched bluesy rocker that went on to become Billboard’s Number One Country Song of 1992. Wynonna ended up with a quintuple platinum certification.

Tell Me Why was released the following year. The album was immediate success and spawned four major hits. Wynonna spent the year touring with Clint Black on the ‘Black and Wy’ tour and enjoyed success with their duet “A Bad Goodbye.” It would be three years before she released her next album, a period in which she contributed to a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album and was marred in scandal for having a child out of wedlock. She would marry her son’s father in 1996, when she was four months pregnant with her daughter.

Wynonna came back strong in 1996 launching her third album Revelations with the chart topping ballad “To Be Loved By You.” The rest of the album’s singles didn’t fare as well and her presence on country radio began to falter for the first time. Wynonna would only manage to score two Top 20 hits from her next album, 1997’s The Other Side. She got divorced in 1998.

During this time her mother, who had been cleared of the Hepatitis C that forced her retirement, decided to rejoin the spotlight. The Judds reunited and staged their reunion show on December 31, 1999 in Phoenix. A tour followed, as did Wynonna’s fifth album, New Day Dawning. She scored a Top 20 hit with the piano ballad “Can’t Nobody Love You (Like I Do).”

Wynonna’s sixth album brought a return to the spotlight in August 2003. What The World Needs Now Is Love was bolstered by a sizeable hit in the title song and two tracks previously featured on movie soundtracks. She married her former bodyguard that November, a marriage that would end when he was arrested for the assault of child under the age of 13.

Wynonna gained further notoriety with multiple appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in which she talked openly about her struggles with weight and reignited the media’s obsession with her various personal dramas. A stunning rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” which she recorded for the 2003 album, was a highlight of those appearances.

A live album Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime, followed in 2005 in conjunction with the release of her autobiography. Her first solo Christmas record was released in late 2006. Wynonna returned to the spotlight in 2009 with the release of a mostly-pop covers collection, Sing Chapter 1. She and her daughter survived a head-on car accident in the summer of 2010.

Wynonna reunited with her mother for “I Will Stand By You,” a promotional single for an Essential Hits collection. She added to her profile as an author with the release of her first novel, Restless Heart. She also had a solo single “Love It Out Loud.”

Her next big career change came when she played Nashville’s 3rd and Lindsley on November 27, 2011. Wynonna debuted her newly formed band ‘Wynonna & The Big Noise’ for the first time that night. The leader of the band is former Highway 101 drummer Cactus Moser, whom she married in June 2012. That August he lost his leg in a horrific motorcycle accident. She competed on Dancing With The Stars the following year.

The band came together for the single “Something You Can’t Live Without” in 2013. Their self-titled debut album was finally released last month to very positive reviews. I hope you enjoy our look back at Wynonna’s solo recordings.