It’s Act III for Wynonna Judd.
In the 1980s, she and mother Naomi topped the country music charts as The Judds, (“Love Can Build A Bridge,” “Mama He’s Crazy,” “Young Love,” “Why Not Me”), selling more than 20 million records, including 14 No. 1 songs. When the duo broke up due to Naomi’s bout of hepatitis C in 1991, Wynonna went on with a solo career. Now, she’s got a band, The Big Noise, and her latest album, the first in seven years, has Wynonna singing the electric blues, along with Americana, soul, rock and a bit of that pure Judd sound from the early days.
The self-titled album “Wynonna & The Big Noise” released in February, and was produced by her husband and the band’s drummer, Cactus Moser. It’s quite a departure for the multi-award winning artist and a concept that was championed by her husband. But there’s no mistaking the powerhouse voice on lead vocals — it’s pure Wynonna.
Wynonna Judd & The Big Noise will be at The Event Center at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, 750 Hollywood Drive, Charles Town, West Virginia, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $75 and you must be age 21 or older to attend events at the casino.
Judd and Moser first met when she was in her 20s touring as The Judds with Moser’s band Highway 101. He recalled being amazed at the purity of Wynonna’s voice during sound checks. Fast-forward 30 years and the two meet again and begin a relationship.
Date nights were filled with music, literally. “There was a night we were out and there was a song he played,” Wynonna said in a recent phone interview. He thought it would be a perfect song for her upcoming album.
“We had a rough go at it on that date and I was ready to get out of the car,” she said. “He said, ‘You can’t go until you listen’. I hated it!”
The song was “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast,” and it became her favorite song on the album.
The album was recorded live in their home studio on the family farm in Tennessee. Moser calls the sound “vintage yet modern,” as the drums and many of the instruments and mics were from the ’30s and ’40s and everyone was in the same room for recording.
The “bare bones” recording style was something Judd was not used to, but Moser encouraged her to return to her vocal roots. He not only had to convince his wife that she needed to do this, but also her management and the record label.
His wife was, perhaps, the most resistant.
“I told her the only one who will get fired if it doesn’t work is me,” Moser said. “I would wake up at night and question what we were doing.” But he’s convinced it was the Holy Spirit that assured him the direction he was taking the album “made complete sense.”
Vintage instruments give the music a “very different heartbeat” centered around the 1930s drum set Moser played on the album. “It made the whole band want to play vintage. It started to color how people heard the music (in the studio). It was a big rush,” Moser said.
“You can hear the nervous sounds. You can tell the guitar is in the same room as the singer … we just let it go. It’s so full of life and it’s one of the top 3 of my records,” Judd said.
“We are celebrating a return to the roots when Wy’s voice was very basic,” Moser said.
A new direction
“Restoration.” That was Wynonna Judd’s word for the year.
“I’m at that age where I woke up one day and realized everything I did in my 20s and 30s no longer was comfortable,” said Judd, who turned 52 on May 30.
“I was walking in the wilderness, walking around the farm, talking to God and seeking that pathway to restore myself,” Judd said. “I was tight with God, working out five times a week” and there’s this “cowboy, a free spirit,” named Cactus Moser.
“The next thing I know I’m falling in love, and the next thing I know I have a new band and the next thing I know I’m in a studio. It was a very real moment of celebration, of freedom … of joy!” she said.
Judd admits that after 33 years in country music, she was tired and needed a new direction. “We as artists can sometime get stuck in a rut,” she said.
“Cactus said ‘these songs are so you.’ It was like he was bringing me a glass of the coolest, purest water on a very hot day,” she said.
She recalled some wisdom given to her that said when you go to God for direction, don’t just pray for Him to bless what you’re doing, but pray that what you’re doing will be a blessing to God.
The song “Things That I Lean On,” a duet with Jason Isbell, is the most personal of the songs on the album, she said. It was written by Travis Meadows and Daniel Sanders.
“The song is so beautiful,” Judd said.
The album features guest artists Susan Tedeschi on “Ain’t No Thing,” co-written by John Scott Sherrill and Chris Stapleton; Jason Isbell on the classic country “Things That I Lean On”; Derek Trucks on “Keeps Me Alive”; Timothy Schmit on “I Can See Everything”; and Cactus Moser on “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast.” “Jesus and a Jukebox,” another barroom country classic song, was written by Travis Meadows, Jeremy Spillman and David Tolliver.
The Event Center show will feature music from The Judds era, her solo albums and her new album.
“We’ll go back to ‘Grandpa’,” she said referring to one of The Judds top hits, but she’ll also perform songs from the new album. In between, you’ll hear some song back stories, stories about her life BC (before Cactus) and now.
“I get down to the nitty gritty. Sometimes,” she said, “I’m told I should sing more and talk less!”
For tickets or more information, visit www.hollywoodcasinocharlestown.com.
(An edited version of this will publish in the Thursday, May 26, edition of 72Hours, inside The Frederick News-Post.)