As an ambassador of country music for more than three decades, Wynonna Judd — or just simply Wynonna, as she is known on the charts — has seen it all.
But she knows her audience hasn’t.
That’s why the Ashland-born singer is fronting a new, more Americana-savvy band called the Big Noise, with husband and drummer Cactus Moser, and she is eager to further the newest chapter in a career that has scored more than a dozen No. 1 country hits.
Make no mistake, though. The noise Wynonna is making today hails from a different kind of country than the one she and mother Naomi inhabited as The Judds in the 1980s or even the one she traveled to and from during a subsequent and successful solo career.
“I’ll give you the absolute truth,” the singer said. “When you put out a new record, a lot of artists try to fit into a format. They try to figure out the pulse of what’s going on and they try to blend in. For me, it was the exact opposite. I wanted to be as truthful and as honest about my gift, as well as what I sing.
“In other words, it can’t just be what we call radio friendly. It can’t just be a catch phrase because it sounds clever. It can’t be, ‘Hey, let’s sing with the most popular artist right now.’ It has to be, for me, about the music and about the songs. It’s about the experience of being with my husband. I think what the audience is seeing and what they’ll see when they see us in this show is a real love affair between two people who have come back from hell.”
These are songs about adult relationships, adult life, adult activity. They have enabled us to sing about our hearts as opposed to just what we think is marketable music.
Cactus Moser, Wynonna’s husband and drummer
The latter reference refers to Moser’s recovery from a 2012 motorcycle accident that caused his left leg to be amputated, and assorted personal and professional turbulence for Wynonna herself. But the big news about the Big Noise and its self-titled 2016 album is the leap into territory that sports performance support from high-profile pals including Americana fave Jason Isbell and the husband-and-wife blues/jam band team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, along with songs written or co-written by Chris Stapleton, Julie Miller, Raphael Saadiq, Susan Siskind and Timothy B. Schmit (who also sings on an update of his 1972 Poco-era tune “I Can See Everything”).
“Part of the whole thing was trying to just go ahead and say, ‘Doggone it, we want to sing songs that are more about life’s spectrum than just partying in the pasture,’” Moser said. “That stuff has become cliché, but it’s still at the main forefront of what a lot of country music is about. So it was somewhat of a move to record songs like ‘Things I Lean On,’ the Jason Isbell duet, or ‘Keep Me Alive,’ which is a great Sarah Siskind song, or the stuff Wy and I wrote. These are songs about adult relationships, adult life, adult activity. They have enabled us to sing about our hearts as opposed to just what we think is marketable music.”
What I see going on right now is a lot of entitlement and expectation. I hear a lot of, ‘I’ll get one hit and I’ll be headlining next.’ No, you’ll be working hard and you’ll be earning a career. That’s what I was taught.
For the star of the show, though, the music on “Wynonna & the Big Noise” presents a portrait of a surviving artist fed up with where country is headed and determined to fashion the kinds of music that give joy to her audience and especially herself. If that means leaving conventional country contingencies behind, so be it.
“I must be getting older, because these things irritate me because I see all these people wanting to be famous,” Judd says. “I see all these people saying, ‘What can I do to make it?’ Here’s the bottom line, and I’m not as much a complainer as I am an observer. What I see going on right now is a lot of entitlement and expectation. I hear a lot of, ‘I’ll get one hit and I’ll be headlining next.’ No, you’ll be working hard and you’ll be earning a career. That’s what I was taught. I was in the back seat of a car for a year, visiting radio stations. I come from the era where there was no Facebook. It was all face to face, so I’m very old-fashioned.
“Our record is real. It comes at a time where everything else is pre-produced and slick. I think we’re kind of back to when Mom and I came out. We were playing acoustic in the “Urban Cowboy” days, when everything was really over-produced. I remember someone saying to us how refreshing it was to hear the acoustic guitar and the harmonies. I feel that’s where I am again. I’ve come full circle.”
If you go
Wynonna and the Big Noise
When: 8:30 p.m. July 22
Where: Renfro Valley Entertainment Center, 2380 Richmond St., Mount Vernon