Wynonna is one of those stars big enough to go by one name. She has had two stellar careers in Country Music: as part of the chart-topping Country duo The Judds and as a solo artist when The Judds disbanded in 1991. Her last album, Sing: Chapter 1, was released in 2009, and featured mainly cover songs and one original tune written by Rodney Crowell.
Much has happened in Wynonna’s life in the six years since that album, and much has changed in the music industry during that time. The apprehension and anxiety was palpable at this show during CMA week in Nashville, as Wynonna and her new band, The Big Noise, set up before an intimate audience of industry heavyweights and music journalists, inside one of Music Row’s most iconic recording studios: RCA Studio B.
Wynonna verbalized her apprehension — turning to her husband, producer and drummer Cactus Moser, she asked, “Are we really doing this?” She also expressed her confusion and perhaps disillusionment with the business of music, stating that she had looked inward to understand the reasons she still wanted to make music.
Wynonna and The Big Noise played five songs as a preview for her forthcoming, eighth studio album. The album would seem to represent an artist at a crossroads of her life and career. This is an artist trying to find her place in a world in which she no longer feels comfortable.
Musically, what stood out about the five songs was the diversity of the styles and sounds. The opening song had a bit of a 1970s blues-rock vibe, while the second was about as close to pure country music as you are likely to find on Music Row. Featuring a pedal steel guitar — Wynonna said it was the first on one of her records since she was with The Judds — “Jesus and a Jukebox” was a lively, heartfelt song.
The remaining three songs moved between Motown soul and modern blues-rock. Throughout the set, Wynonna demonstrated that she still has her famous voice, quite capable of belting and emoting.
Besides the diversity of the music, the thing that stood out was the fact that Wynonna and her band seemed to be thoroughly and genuinely enjoying themselves. The initial apprehension mentioned above wore off as soon as the music started, and the band seemed very comfortable with each other.
Their album is expected to be completed in July and released possibly later in the year. It will feature guest spots from Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Timothy B. Schmit (Poco, The Eagles), and Americana icon Jason Isbell. The preview demonstrated that Wynonna and the Big Noise are approaching this career crossroads moment with focus, energy, and a kind of resigned confidence, having reached a certain point in life and career. This set also demonstrated a willingness to take musical risks and explore new, unfamiliar territory.
The one question left under-answered, for now at least, is how this will all come together. It is a question that Wynonna herself cannot answer. She said that for the first time her career, she is letting someone else (Cactus Moser) make all of the decisions, and that she is following his advice to just sing.