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Album Review: “Sing: Chapter 1” by Wynonna

February 4, 2009

Chapter 1 cover

4 Stars

 

Wynonna is such a refreshing figure in this genre. She has played a huge part in the history of country music and has earned a place as one of the most honored female figures of her time. For her triumphant return to the scene she decided to begin an apparently multi-volume project where she takes her highly distinguished vocal chops and the credit she has earned and puts her spin on a collection of classics from all over music that she grew up with and that have influenced her sound.

Sing: Chapter 1 reveals pretty much every angle there is to Wynonna and her many influences. From Hank and Merle to Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Ray Vaughan there’s a little bit of everything mixed in here. Judd commented on the project by describing it as an image of the music she grew up with and what she listened to when she was young. She spared no expense when she made her final selections. Teaming with her former producers, Brent Maher and Don Potter, Wynonna’s collection of hits is not a modernized romp of favorites made into something they’re not and it’s far from a poor attempt to capture the greatness she saw, along with millions of others, in these songs.

No matter who the singer is, a cover album is always a tough one. There have been a few who have stepped up to the task successfully and Wynonna joins that crew with the likes of Martina and Shelby Lynn. Wynonna’s childhood songbook spans many genres, many feelings, many topics and many sounds from all over the music world before the 1990’s. Most of these songs stick to the production and feel of their original versions, which may be considered “playing it safe”, but it works. From her party girl attitude in Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin'” and “I Hear You Knocking”, famed by Dave Edmunds, to her more classic and smoother performance in Raitt’s “Woman Be Wise” Judd brings an interesting mixture of fearlessness and experience to the table that allows her to play with each song and make it her own without staining it’s original perfection. She takes on some of the most treasured masterpieces and was willing to put her credibility on the line to make it work just right.

While the bulk of this project provides the original sounds of the covers, where Judd and her producers made this album as great as it  became is when they took a few chances on some songs to really make them Wynonna’s own. That is a truly challenging task, to take classics and tweak them without completely losing them entirely. One of the most notable is Wynonna’s take on the Hank classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Compared to Hank’s original acoustic version, Wynonna shares a much darker side that perfectly captures every aspect of the song that made it such an awesome heartwrencher. The same goes with “Anyone Who Had A Heart”, a multiply re-done classic also covered on Lynn’s tribute to Dusty Springfield. However, Judd’s is unique to all of these with the production also much darker and filled with carefully projected feeling and delicacy that doesn’t overshadow it, an all to important aspect of the connection between artist and lyrics in the song. The closing track “Sing” is the only original offering, appropriately written by Rodney Crowell, which is her closing tribute to the gift she has been giving and the healing power of singing.

The sad fact of the matter here is that although it contains a lot of musical history, this album will come off a dreary, drawn out and rather boring for those who buy it just for the promising entertainment value of Wynonna’s past offerings. This album required a lot of respect to make and it requires just as much to appreciate it. Judd went into this project with a goal in mind, to celebrate her success in music by paying tribute to the music that got her here from the very beginning. She planned everything carefully and chose the best songs and producers that knew how she worked to make sure this project would be a classic, and that it is.

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