Wynonna: Sing

[10 February 2009]

By Juli Thanki

With Sing, Wynonna covers the songs that have been an influence on her music during her wildly successful 25-year career. Though the album is nothing remarkable, Wynonna should be applauded for her efforts to cure insomnia: the release will make all but the most dedicated Judd-head nod off. There’s very little separating this record from the easy listening played in grocery stores and doctors’ offices. Similarities can be drawn between Sing and Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook releases: both offer classic songs delivered with hit-and-miss results, as well as a whole lot of boredom on the part of the listener.

The combination of classic songs and Wynonna’s instantly recognizable voice would seem to make for a slam-dunk record. Unfortunately, most of the tracks are average at best.  Several barely deviate from the original artists’ versions—or when she tries to make a song her own, she falls short. The album’s most egregious sin is her cover of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Bad Hank Williams covers are a dime a dozen in country music, but this is one of the worst in recent memory. There’s nothing of the original recording’s naked despair; Williams’ plaintive moan is replaced by Judd’s gorgeous but emotionless voice, while the musical arrangement drags on at the speed of continental drift. This version might sound decent were it being sung in a piano bar after listeners had knocked back a few strong gin and tonics, but for an artist of Wynonna’s abilities, it just isn’t good enough.

On one song, Judd gets it completely right. Her infectious cover of “I Hear You Knockin’” is full of life, with a healthy dose of sass and Wynonna’s signature growl. It’s reminiscent of her glory days in the early ‘90s when she was releasing hits like “No One Else on Earth” and “I Saw the Light”. Wynonna’s version of the composition by New Orleans bluesman Smiley Lewis borrows liberally from Dave Edmunds’ excellent rock ‘n’ roll cover. Unfortunately, this spark of life is short-lived, and the album sinks back into a rut with the next track, a mirror version of Tammy Wynette’s “‘Til I Get It Right”.

The collection of songs that Judd chose for Sing is strong, and the range from country to blues to pop displays her wide variety of musical influences.  Her choice of the 1930s jazz singers the Boswell Sisters’ “That’s How Rhythm Was Born” is particularly fascinating, and even if Wynonna’s version isn’t quite as good as the original, she is to be commended for bringing attention to an immensely talented trio that has long been out of the public eye. Unfortunately, the execution of these diverse songs is so poor that you find yourself longing for Judd’s early days as a solo artist, in which material and presentation were more than merely the sum of their parts.

There’s no denying that Wynonna has one of the best and most identifiable voices in modern country music. And while she doesn’t hit a sour note on this release, her interpretation of these classics leaves a lot to be desired.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/69850-wynonna-sing/