When she renamed herself prior to embarking on a performing career, Christina Judd recalled a line from Bobby Troupe’s “Route 66”–“Don’t forget Winona.” She may not spell any better than Dan Quayle does, but the younger Judd doesn’t have to. Having recently dropped her last name, Wynonna is the hottest female singer in country It wasn’t hard for Naomi and Wynonna Judd to become the most successful mother-and-daughter act in country music: They were virtually the only such duo. Still, they racked up numerous hit singles and a multitude of awards during their nine-year recording career.
With mom Naomi sidelined by illness (and after the longest “farewell” tour since Frank Sinatra announced his retirement 20 years ago), Wynonna is now on her own.
It’s a brilliant success, with her debut solo album for MCA/Curb hitting No. 4 on the pop chart in its first week out, and two No. 1 country chart singles so far.
For her first Southern California shows since the split, Wynonna sold out two nights at the Universal, and was set to play at the 18,000-seat Pacific Amphitheatre as well.
Thursday’s sensational Universal premiere found Wynonna drawing heavily from the new album–including the hits “She Is His Only Need” and “I Saw the Light” (not the Hank Williams standard of the same name), reviving a few Judds favorites including “Why Not Me” and “Mama, He’s Crazy,” and rebalancing the musical backing.
She’s using more electric instrumentation than before, as well as a group of gospel-influenced backup singers. Also, she’s emphasizing the bluesier aspects of her own singing–with that Fender Telecaster in her hands and renowned rock bassist Willie Weeks in the band, it’s easy to see where comparisons with Bonnie Raitt abound.
While still operating out of Nashville, her connection with country music is (as was Patsy Cline’s) more a matter of geography than musical inclination–despite having the word “Thanks” written on the back of her guitar to flash to the crowd (an homage to Ernest Tubb), there’s more Fleetwood Mac than Reba McEntire in Wynonna.
Reports of the singer’s nervousness earlier in the tour may be true–Naomi was the duo’s onstage spokesperson–but they no longer apply. She was poised and confident at the Universal, and clearly in charge.
She still keeps pretty well to the center of the stage, contrasting with mom’s whirlwind, but did venture up onto a platform toward the rear at one point , and came to the lip of the stage to uphold the time-honored tradition of embarrassing a member of the audience by holding him up to good-natured ridicule.
Her set was a bit short at just an hour, but certainly fulfilling and with its moments of musical brilliance from the support troops, none of whom she bothered to introduce.
(Naomi, incidentally, was backstage at the Universal, cheering her daughter on. With an autobiography and autobiographical NBC-TV miniseries in the works, she’s keeping busy, as well.)
Opener Billy Dean was totally professional, if a bit less overwhelming than Judd. A former jingle singer, he’s handsome and strong-voiced, though the SBK/Liberty artist’s real orientation may have been revealed by his renditions of Dave Mason’s “We Just Disagree” and two songs from the James Taylor book, “Steamroller Blues” (featuring some nice blues guitar from Dean and the band) and “You’ve Got a Friend.” He didn’t introduce his musicians, either.