Saturday, April 16, 2016

Wynonna - Wynonna and the Big Noise (Album Review)

Wynonna - Wynonna and the Big Noise (Album Review)
Rating: 63/100
Label: Curb
Release Date: 12 February 2016
Chart Success: Debut #162 Billboard 200; #14 Billboard Top Country Albums (March 5, 2016), 4,700 copies sold.

Tracklist:
1. Ain't No Thing 2. Cool Ya 3. Things That I Lean On" (featuring Jason Isbell)
4.You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast 5. Staying in Love 6. Keeps Me Alive (featuring Derek Trucks)
7. Jesus and a Jukebox 8. I Can See Everything (featuring Timothy B. Schmit)
9. Something You Can't Live Without 10. You Are So Beautiful 11. Every Ending (Is a New Beginning)
12. Choose to Believe

An absolute battle cry
WYNONNA & THE BIG NOISE, which is a self-titled debut album from Wynonna Judd's new band was released just in time for Valentine's Day, and it was no coincidence. After marriage, a love story blossomed overcoming challenges that would really test the strength of any relationship to its core. The album is produced and led by Wynonna’s husband Cactus Moser (longtime drummer in Highway 101)  
Technically this brand new set from the 51-year old Ashland, Kentucky, singer, author, philanthropist and actress, is her 8th studio album and her first since Jan 2009’s SING: CHAPTER 1 (although the album was mostly covers, except for the title track, an original composition by Rodney Crowell). That album reunited her with producers Brent Maher and Don Potter, who produced all of The Judds' 1980s albums.
BIG NOISE marks the first album of original material in 13 years from country music's fiery redhead. Released on August 5, 2003 WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE (Curb / Asylum) her sixth studio album produced four chart singles; with the title cut reaching #14 on the Billboard country charts. This album was mostly original music, but it also included some covers of Elvis, Foreigner and Journey.

So what had happened to Wynonna the last decade and what has helped shape WYNONNA & THE BIG NOISE?
She may have gone off people’s radar so here are the trials and tribulations of the country singer during that time:
  • Many of course fondly remember Wynonna rising to fame in the 1980s alongside her mother, Naomi, in the famed country duo The Judds. The duo released seven albums on Curb Records and charted 26 singles (14 were No1s). After The Judds disbanded in 1991, Wynonna started her solo career, also on Curb. 
  • In July 2004 Wynonna and Naomi Judd re-teamed as The Judds for their only joint performance that year, headlining Houston's Fourth of July celebration and marked their 20th anniversary as a duo.
  • In 2007 Wynonna's estranged husband, D.R. Roach, returned to Nashville and was taken to jail after being arrested the previous month in Abilene charged with three counts of aggravated sexual battery against a minor. Earlier that year Roach entered a rehab facility seeking treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. According to divorce papers Judd filed she and Roach separated a few days before he checked into rehab. Judd and Roach had been married for just over three years, but they had been a couple since 1999.
  • ELVIS COMPLEX: In November 2008 she undertook an 18-city run with a Classic Christmas Tour and it appears had her head on her shoulders that holiday season when buying gifts for her kids. In the not-so-distant past, her spending got out of control, and the good fortune she had piled up during her time in the spotlight was fast in danger of vanishing and purchasing a journey to the poorhouse. "I had an Elvis complex," she told ABC News. "I had to buy Harleys and cars. I bought my Mom a bus." Realizing she had an issue she dealt with it visiting a Nashville organization called Onsite, which helped people develop a healthy relationship with their money. Wynonna cut up her credit cards and worked a new song into the Christmas tour. Her voice was added, quite aptly, to "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" on an album Elvis Presley Christmas Duets.
  • The Judds reunited again in February 2010 and the two were set to go on tour and release an album. Wynonna made the big announcement before performing on the broadcast's pre-Super Bowl show, live from Miami Beach. 
  • In April 2010 Wynonna released a collection of her top singles and three new tracks, LOVE HEALS, through Cracker Barrel. The project was done in conjunction with Wounded Warrior Project and its efforts to assist wounded service men and women and their families.
  • In July 2010 Wynonna was in a major head-on collision in Salt Lake City with her teen-age daughter & tour manager. Wy said it was a miracle she was alive. 
  • In Jan 2011 Judd travelled to New York making several media appearances for a release of her debut fictional novel, Restless Heart. The novel chronicled the life of Destiny Hart, who grappled with love, loss, success and surrender. “I wanted to tell a story of a young woman with her life unfolding before her, facing incredible challenges and incredible opportunities, and making good decisions,” explained Wynonna.  The work of fiction actually mirrored some resemblance to the singer’s primary career. 
  • In early 2011 rumours had circulated that Wynonna had a new beau in her life. CMT put the rumour to rest in March 2011 when the flame-haired songstress confirmed her relationship with Highway 101 drummer Cactus Moser and that they had been together for 18 months. A DVD, 'Christmas on Highway 101,' included a special appearance by Wynonna, in November 2010.
  • April 2011 saw her participate in the excellent ACM Superstar Women of Country taping in Vegas when she and John Fogherty sang “Proud Mary”. The following month Wynonna surprised her mum Naomi with special new song “Love It Out Loud” on “The Judds” own season finale.  Wynonna co-wrote and produced the track with Moser to honor the love, affection and appreciation she has towards her mother. 
  • In Dec 2011 Wynonna and Cactus (Photo), her then 54-year boyfriend of two years, proposed to her on Christmas Eve, and she yes!  Judd had been married twice before. She and her first husband, Arch Kelly III - with whom she had two children (Elijah, and Grace), split up in 1998, and as stated above she divorced D.R. Roach in 2007 after four years of marriage. The engagement marked the latest chapter in a happy comeback for Judd, suffering two health scares and the head-on car collision. Judd had turned her life around by losing 55 lbs. and reunited with her mother, for the first Judds tour in 10 years.
  • Wynonna married for the third time on Sunday June 10th 2012, in a private family ceremony, tying the knot with her The Big Noise band mate, on her Leipers Fork farm (Photo). Her daughter Grace served as maid of honor. Strangely her mother Naomi and sister Ashley did not attend. "I felt a joy that hasn't been there before," the bride told Us Weekly magazine. Judd admitted her relationship with Naomi and Ashley Judd was strained.
  • On Aug 18, 2012 Cactus Moser was involved in a serious motorcycle accident shortly before Judd was set to perform. The two were riding separate motorcycles (Judd was riding ahead) when he crossed the center line and hit a car. Moser was air-lifted to hospital with serious, but non-life threatening, injuries. However his left leg had to be amputated following the crash when doctors determined it was necessary to amputate the leg above the knee. A rep also said Moser had to undergo surgery on his hand, which was of particular concern being the drummer in Judd's band
  • Determination: Cactus Moser triumphantly returned to the stage barely three months after the accident playing behind wife, Wynonna, in Regina, Saskatchewan. It drew a lengthy standing ovation as Wynonna kicked off of her Rockin' Christmas tour.
  • In March 2013 Wynonna was a contestant on Season 16 of Dancing with the Stars. She was partnered with all-star season champ Tony Dovolani but they were the first couple eliminated following a low scoring 15-point samba.


So fast forward to February 2016 and the delayed Wynonna and the Big Noise album finally arrives!
Moser said he viewed Big Noise as both "a left turn" and a return to form for Judd. There was not a conscious effort to make something that would fit the current country music market trends.
What determined the project and song choice was quality and joy. Judd is not only front and centre performing with a small group led by her hubby and producer but she was given free rein to let loose with songs she personally hand-picked with little or no concern for expanding her career with more hits. What you have is effectively a band album that was mostly recorded live in the studio.
Getting to do the musical part together, instead of separate, is a bonus,” shared a pride filled Moser - “When you love what you do and love each other, it’s perfect.”
The album cover art is something of a giveaway with a vintage bi-plane bursting through a graphic of a drum kit with the roaring and excited singer on the airstrip with her hands apart with supportive bandmates nearby. Speaking of the album Wynonna calls it her “absolute battle cry”. It’s her with fists in the air, saying “I will overcome, that's what we've done."

On the rocking bluesy opener “Ain't No Thing”, penned by John Scott Sherrill and the buzzworthy and big winning Mr. Chris Stapleton (country music’s answers to Adele) it sees Wynonna pairing up with Susan Tedeschi. As Judd growls and belts out the big notes Tedeschi offers a restrained and soulful harmony. A wailing guitar marks the break-up as a lover departs like a long freight train. No tears will fall, hardened by those seen it all before feelings -  I could get feeling down, I could cruise downtown, Find a good place to cry, drink a bottle dry. But what's the point? No skies will fall - You know it ain't no thing.

Later on this 13-song set on "Keeps Me Alive" penned by Sarah Siskind we see Tedeschi’s husband, Derek Trucks and fellow band member of The Tedeschi Trucks outfit lend a hand with a soaring slide solo on the swampy, brooding and questioning track - Will I be dreaming, dreaming? Tomorrow, will I be trembling?

On the gritty "Cool Ya" (writers Lisa Carver, Andrew Ripp) Wynonna rocks some Middle Eastern vibes playing the role as a welcoming temptress as she sings Wilted flower, wounded stone, Rest your weary in these arms cool ya' and then with a cry pleads - Let the hallelujah flow right through When the well runs dry, let the river cool ya' Cool, cool.

Fans who loved Wynonna’s glory days through the 90s will be drawn to the comforting standout track "Things That I Lean On", a duet which features Americana hero Jason Isbell. The song co-written by hit songwriter Travis Meadows (Dierks Bentley, Jake Owens) references to a go-to bucket list to help ease the pain through troubled times. It cites Psalm 23, a sleeping pill to rest the mind, a little BB King, God's grace, nana's voice on the telephone, the timeless soul of a Conway song and a shoulder of a man. The latter is something Judd will share with the sentiment having cited that Moser and her are "pretty much together 24/7" and that she hasn’t previously found anyone else’s company as enjoyable!
During the dark days of Cactus’ motorcycle accident and recovery she shared “I went from Wyonnna the singer to Wynonna the wife, the nurse, the cook, the driver”. “We’re talking real down-in-the-trenches, hardcore stuff that you don’t really think you’re gonna have to go to [in a marriage].”


On the raw and flirtatious “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast”, written by Julie Miller, with its Tina Turner vibe, it features Cactus Moser on backing vocals. Bitten by the love drug Wynonna sings: Baby, I'm psychedelic with the motion, And I can't come down
My heart plays dead but love changes, everything goes 'round and 'round and 'round and 'round

With its Stones like opening Wynonna finds her soulful groove and in a good mindset when covering Raphael Saadiq's "Staying in Love." The falling in love comes easy - You see now, when I met you, I'm so good now cos you kiss me, Boy, you changed my life, you made me see. Making a relationship succeed along life’s rocky road is another matter - But staying in love is so tricky

The delightful album highlight "Jesus and a Jukebox" (Meadows, Jeremy Spillman, David Tolliver) brings to mind those halcyon days of The Judds. It has a beautiful soothing sound and is an excellent trademark country weeper. The story relates a tale of a retired couple (They were two of a kind for the longest time) but “Miss Evelyn” has sadly departed leaving her companion behind. She’d spent her whole life trying in vain to make him believe but those Willie [Nelson] songs fell on stony ground. Now he’s leaning on and learning a different tune. To help his soul on lonely nights he tenderly carries a cross and drops a quarter in:  Jesus and a jukebox brings comfort to his soul

The softly, melodic and inward looking "I Can See Everything" features Eagle Timothy B. Schmit on backing vocals written when he was a member of Poco. It tells a tale of what might have been: If you could feel the way that I do today, We could find us a better way

The up-tempo "Something You Can't Live Without" written by Moser and David Lee Murphy was it seems released as a single in March 2013 and may have missed the mark with radio and failed to ignite any media love. This may explain the delay with releasing new material until now.

The gospel flavoured love song “You Are So Beautiful" (Moser, Ashley Warren) seems to drag its feet and is rather light weight lyrically with syrupy words: You are my shining star, You are light behind my eyes, You are the dazzle in my diamond heart, And I think it's love

The collaborative "Every Ending (Is a New Beginning)" (Doug Johnson, Wynonna Judd, Billy Montana, Moser) continues with the slower pace. This track is certainly a grower with repeat plays and allows you to immerse yourself in its inspirational and encouraging world. As spirits run free the delicate textures reveal themselves complemented by the addition of some delightful dobro and pedal steel. 

The closer "Choose to Believe" (Charlie White, Kevin Welch) feels rather heavy-going as it slowly stumbles across the albums finishing line. It points a way that when times get tough they are best shared together if we treat each other with respect but that it
ain't easy for a woman and a man. Wynonna’s belief is that love is bulletproof and has referred to her other halve as being positive and calls him her “Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky”.

Recommended for download: Jesus and a Jukebox, Things That I Lean On, Keeps Me Alive, Every Ending (Is a New Beginning)

Adrian Clark for Country Music News International
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