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Sing is powered by emotive sonnets that formed the backbone and backdrop of The Judds’ own musical touchstones, and fueled Wynonna’s penchant for multiple musical passions. Songs include the swinging Big Band tilt of “That’s How Rhythm Was Born,” first recorded by The Boswell Sisters, one of the earliest songs Wynonna remembers singing with her mother; “Till I Get It Right,” the Tammy Wynette heartbreaker; “Ain’t No Sunshine,” the Bill Withers classic;” I’m A Woman,” popularized by Maria Muldaur - and Merle Haggard’s 1980’s country lament, “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good.” The album also contains spirited rockers, such as “I Hear You Knocking” and the Stevie Ray Vaughan corker, “The House Is Rockin’,” among others. Wynonna even sneaks in a brand new original song, the title track “Sing,” written by Rodney Crowell and presented to her by longtime co-producers Brent Maher and Don Potter, who helped the superstar artist navigate these most cherished musical steppingstones in the making of this album.
“These are the songs I knew growing up and that I carried through the bumps and bruises on and off the road. Behind the scenes,” says Wynonna. “Songs I listened to backstage before the show. On the way to the Grammys and back home, and those lonelier moments when there is no one else around.”
Honest tales that speak to the heart; classic American songs of love, loss and survival written to heal wounds and soften the blows of a rollicking country journey, reminding her to brake for rock, folk, gospel, R&B, and blues along the way.
Sing swells with the cisterns of a legendary singer’s unshakeable foundation, experienced in full and seeping into a personal mythology that has become part of American country music lore. The album not only sheds new light on the rags-to-riches Judd legend, but provides country fans and rock aficionados a rare opportunity to envision the way a 12-year-old Wynonna first experienced the songs in her own musical imagination. “I’m sort of lifting the veil on all these songs for the first time,” she says. “Listening to them these past few months has made me remember all these incredible snapshots of my life with these songs as the soundtrack.”
Wynonna was also reawakened to the generational and transformational possibilities inherent in the music chosen for Sing. “Take a song like ‘Woman Be Wise,’” she says, one of the album’s capstones, a bluesy gem that the legendary Bonnie Raitt made popular. “It reminds me of a period in my life when I spent a tremendous amount of time in my room because I was grounded for one thing and another. I just loved Bonnie, and used to fantasize about the day she’d call and ask me to join her band. I wanted nothing more than to go out on the road with a rock band. I was all about that pre-teen, forlorn, two-or-three dramas a day kind of stuff. I envisioned my daughter when I sang this - imagined other moms with their daughters - and tried to give it that ‘girlfriend to girlfriend’ perspective, knowing what I know now. I’m enjoying the calm and wisdom that comes with this period in my life – but it’s songs like this that remind me why I was so inspired by rock.”
Her passion for rock and gutsy R&B has long been a hallmark of her charismatic live shows. She’s been a welcome guest of rock icons like U2 and the Rolling Stones, and Sing’s beckoning version of “I Hear You Knocking,” (originally recorded by Smiley Lewis and made popular by Dave Edmunds), reminded her of her early love for bands like the Stones and Foreigner. Her set-the-house-on-fire version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin’” churns with the gritty tenacity of a rock n’ roll pro – displaying what Wynonna proudly brandishes as “the desire and absolute necessity to rock. I look at someone like Tina Turner and see that she just gets better with age, and I hope that’s where I’m headed.”
Wynonna also vividly recalls a fortuitous moment of crossing paths with Stevie Ray even before she was a known musical entity. “My mom knew his brother Jimmy and I remember being in his apartment. It was so magical, but then again I was just 16 and didn’t know any better. There I was making myself up in the bathroom while Jimmy and Stevie are practicing for a gig in the kitchen. I could hear them as I’m doing my hair. When I think back about that moment in my life, I realize how unbelievable and innocent it was all at the same time. I tried to continue the ‘feel’ of a moment like that when I did the song.”
Wynonna’s keen instincts for finding the essence of a song have earned her a reputation for making a wide range of musical choices her ‘own.’ She points to the Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick treasure – “Anyone Who Had A Heart” (a song she initially recorded for Bacharach’s 1999 concert release One Amazing Night and has been singing on the road ever since) as a chance to put her own touch on this beloved classic. “It’s always been one of my favorite songs. The version I did for Burt was more in keeping with the original. Here I get to do a little facelift. It was also a great exercise for me in trying another direction with a song that always gets a great reaction live.”
Wynonna’s interpretation of the Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” presented a different set of challenges. “I just love that song, and was a little bit hesitant, kind of like ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ I was about seven years old when it came out and still remember how powerful it was.” Wynonna credits long time musical collaborators Don Potter and Brent Maher with much needed musical and moral support on Sing. “Don always reminds me to follow my instincts and "Ain't No Sunshine" turned out to be one of my favorites.”
Respect for the material chosen for Sing was always the first priority, Wynonna did not hesitate in lending her voice to classics that have, over time become signature songs for some pretty heavy hitters: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” originally recorded by Hank Williams, Nat King Cole’s stunning ballad “When I Fall In Love,” – “One of my Top 5 favorite songs of all time,” says Wynonna, “I love the simplicity and the poetry of it. Don outdid himself on this version. I put this one down as one of those special markers of my career.” And country giant Merle Haggard’s “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good,” which Wynonna points out: “Was controversial then, and in many ways can be viewed as still controversial. But for me, Merle Haggard was another one of those great chapters in my growth. The second or third concert I ever attended was a Merle concert. He’s one of the true all-time greats.”
A quick going-over of just the credits for Sing conjures up musical history from almost every genre and era of the last half of the 20th century. Wynonna’s approach was to come to the studio focused only on each day’s task. “It really does get down to just singing the song. At the end of the day, music is here to produce a memory for people. Look at all the memories these songs inspired for me. I’m able to show up and be present. That’s what I’m breathing into these songs. I’m not so hell-bent on the destination that I forget the journey."
And what a journey it has been. For Wynonna, who Rolling Stone Magazine once referred to as ‘the greatest female country singer since Patsy Cline,’ stats alone don’t do her solo career justice. She’s always pushed the boundaries of the country music repertoire. Impressive credentials like more than 10 million albums sold, 6 platinum-plus/gold-plus albums, 16 Top Ten hits, a Top Female Vocalist Of The Year Award from the Academy of Country Music, and many sold-out tours in the last 17 years - all come in second to her amazing ability to resonate with fans from all walks of life. “I’m blessed with the greatest fans in the world,” she says. “Even when I’m recording, I try to imagine them having a bad day and my music coming on and making them stop for a second, and hopefully feel something that they otherwise may have been too busy to notice.”
Her 2005 autobiography, Coming Home To Myself, also shared her many struggles over adversity throughout her career. The book was a staple of the New York Times Bestseller list, and served as a perfect companion piece to her autobiographical musical journey, Her Story: Scenes From A Lifetime, a double-live gold-plus certified CD and DVD, which hit #2 on the Top Country Album charts.
Ever since her record-breaking, quintuple platinum debut solo CD, 1992’s Wynonna, which reached #1 on the Country chart and loomed in the Top 5 of Billboard’s Top Albums chart (producing 4 #1 singles), the singer has remained one of country’s most recognizable, yet unpredictable icons. Subsequent best selling releases such as the 1993 follow-up masterpiece Tell Me Why, 1996’s more introspective Revelations, her rock-driven, blues-inspired 1997 effort The Other Side, and 5th album, which she co-produced, 2000’s New Day Dawning (which featured covers of Joni Mitchell and The Fabulous Thunderbirds) - have established her as an artist who continues to challenge herself and grow as a performer. Her most recent studio album was released in 2003, the acclaimed What The World Needs Now Is Love.
The early-1980’s launch of The Judds, featuring Wynonna and her mother Naomi, (whose humble Kentucky family life reflected the everyday struggles of many Americans) found the duo being credited with ‘single-handedly saving country music,’ according to Time magazine. Their kitchen table harmonies and home-spun rapport was a breath of fresh air to a stagnant country music scene at the time. Their cross-generational appeal, powerful vocal interplay, and dedication to ‘family love and rural values’ would catch on with fans of all musical genres, and win them CMA Country Duo of the year honors in 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991. Five-time Grammy award winners, and one of the most successful musical pairings of all time, The Judds have sold more than 20 million records, snagging multiple gold, platinum, and multi-platinum certifications from the RIAA.
“I feel I’ve come full circle and I’m back to where I started: an 18-year-old girl sitting on the back porch playing and singing her heart out. I’m ready to begin the journey again.”
Over the mountains and through the valleys. High and low places accounted for.
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