After a long, sustainable career as part of a country duo then as a solo artist, Wynonna Judd has taken a new road: leading a band. Wynonna & The Big Noise is Wynonna partially stepping away from her country roots and making more noise. The band’s debut album features more rock influence in the music, while keeping her grounded in the genre that she’s called home her whole life. The album was produced by her husband Cactus Moser, who is also the band’s drummer. Two months into their 2012 marriage, Moser was in a motorcycle accident that resulted in him losing a leg. Wynonna stood by his side, caring for him and helping him get back to normal life. When it came to choosing songs for the album, it’s obvious that Moser’s accident influenced the direction of the album. Several of the songs deal with overcoming obstacles and loving devotion to one another, almost as if Wynonna & The Big Noise is Judd and Moser’s story. After all, Judd calls this album her “battle cry.”
The album kicks off with the rocking “Ain’t No Thing.” Wynonna sings of a relationship that’s just ended. But instead of feeling heartbroken and drawn to a bar to cope with the feelings, she shakes the bad news off. She informs her man that he shouldn’t expect her to mourn over their failed relationship. This bluesy rock piece was written by Chris Stapleton. This is followed by “Cool Ya,” a mid-tempo rock song with a unique production. The song builds nicely as occasional guitar riffs slowly develop into a full melody over the steady drum beat. Lyrically, the song reads sort of like a baptism, encouraging “fallen daughters” and “wilted flowers” to find comfort in the rain and the water while the “hallelujah flows right through.”
Jason Isbell provides vocal harmonies on “Things That I Lean On.” Accompanied by acoustic guitar with a fiddle, Wynonna sings of the various things in life she turns to when she feels down or lost. From the 23rd Psalm to a timeless Conway Twitty song; from the shoulder of the one she loves to grandma’s words of wisdom. The song’s vulnerability gets a little lost in the list-y nature of the lyrics.
The theme of devoted love first shows up with “You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast.” There’s a vibe in the lyrics that maybe Wynonna is caught off guard by the strong feelings of love within her, but she likes it. This is a total rock song with screeching guitar riffs and a gruff vocal delivery. “Staying In Love” is a bit more country in its melody, but stays within the rock world. The song devotes itself to hard work of maintaining love in a relationship. The song’s production works nicely, building the song and delivering a catchy, anthemic chorus.
“Keeps Me Alive” is an encouraging song about maintaining an optimistic outlook on life. Dreaming and moving forward is what fuels their life and keeps them driving on. The slow-moving production is unique as it layers the acoustic guitar with an electric guitar. While the first half of the album is mostly rock music, Wynonna & The Big Noise, goes back to 100% country music over the next few songs, beginning with “Jesus and a Jukebox.” The song tells a story of an older man trying to cope with the loss of his long time wife by praying and listening to classic country music. Wynonna’s twang in her vocals sounds perfect with the steel guitar. This is without a doubt the album’s best song.
“I Can See Everything” deals with overcoming your own sadness finding joy within yourself. Wynonna sings the encouraging words to the one she loves and cares deeply about. She believes that better days around the corner. The steel guitar is present again among the acoustic guitar and simple percussion. The melody of “I Can See Everything” burns slowly and gets better as the song progresses, ending on a high note. Love is revisited with “Something You Can’t Live Without.” In this case, it’s her man who’s confused by his strong feelings. Wynonna tells him that’s how love should feel. The song balances rock and country nicely, with steel guitar ring among the rock production, which presents itself more on the extended musical outro.
After a strong start, the album sort of sputters to an end with the last three songs. “You Are So Beautiful” is a love song where she tells the man she loves why she loves him. The song’s redeeming quality is found in the bluesy rock production, but the lyrics are mostly cheesy. “Every Ending (Is A New Beginning)” is an inspirational song that also seems cheesy. As you can tell from the title, the story is one of encouragement, remaining hopeful that things will always improve and get better. The country production is noteworthy though, and it’s nice to hear another song with steel guitar. The final song deals with the same kind of message. “Choose To Believe” encourages one to react positively to life’s curve balls: choose to believe in love because we’re strong together. With the slow tempo piano and acoustic guitar, it seems like an odd choice to end the album. While these three songs may in fact be the most personal given the events that preceded the album, the songs sound like echos and repetitions from sentiments earlier in the album.
Wynonna & The Big Noise has a great blended production of rock and country, and neither genre felt out of place. Many of the songs have great, catchy melodies and some great stories. As great as her voice is for country music, I don’t think Wynonna Judd sounded out of place singing rock either, and it’s that comfortable versatility that ties the two genres together on this album. However, even at the average 12 songs, Wynonna & The Big Noise seemed to drag its way to a finish. Maybe it was the cheesier lyrics of the final couple songs, or maybe it was due to the fact that the album started much stronger with more captivating songs toward the beginning. That’s truly my only big complaint with the album, though. Moser’s production is well done, Judd’s vocals are excellent, and most of the songwriting works. Wynonna & The Big Noise perfectly introduces the new direction of Wynonna Judd, adding more rock edge into her music.