February 3, 2009
Sing – Chapter 1
Wynonna’s music has incorporated so many elements of soul and blues over the years that it’s easy to forget that she got her start singing pure country harmonies with her mother. Some of those elements started creeping into the later Judds records, particularly on the hit “Born to Be Blue.” But when Wynonna went solo, listeners quickly learned where her true musical heart was. With Sing – Chapter 1, she reveals how that heart was shaped.
Scanning the track listing, one might expect this collection to run the musical gamut, but the sound is quite a bit more focused than that. There are a few country songs here, but none of them are performed as such. Even the pure pop songs don’t have a glossy sheen. The entire album is done in the blue-eyed soul where Wynonna is most comfortable.
For the most part, it works. Her reading of the Hank Williams classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” reveals just how close the roots of country music are to the roots of the blues. “When I Fall in Love” and “Till I Get it Right” have an intimate allure that would be right at home in the early morning hours of a dimly lit piano bar. And when she rocks? Good Lord, she rocks. Her ferocious performances of “I Hear You Knocking” and “The House is Rockin’” could single-handedly revive the long-dormant Best Female Rock Performance Grammy.
The best moments are Wynonna at her finest. “Woman Be Wise” is a cautionary tale that is part-Tammy, part-Ella, a flawless fusion of Wy’s musical roots. The gospel opener “That’s How Rhythm Was Born” sounds like all of those records that purists wanted The Judds to make. “Anyone Who Had a Heart” is only as heartbreaking as the person who’s singing it, and Wynonna projects the perfect combination of vulnerability and disbelieving naivete.
Cover albums can be dicey, thanks to the dual challenges of needing a reason to exist and being held up against the original performances. This album may solely exist because Wynonna thought it would be fun to sing these songs. But she’s such a riveting singer, and her performances are fully realized, that it never ceases to be an entertaining listen. She’s never sounded better on record, and at times she even rivals her legendary live shows. Perhaps with the next chapter, she’ll dig a little deeper and apply her unrivaled vocal talents to more challenging and unconventional material.