News Column

REVIEW: Wynonna's great music, sassy performance make the show at Sands Bethlehem Event Center

June 29, 2014

By John J. Moser, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)



June 29--Country singer Wynonna Judd made two statements during her concert Saturday at Sands Bethlehem Event Center that explained everything about the show.

"Anybody can entertain," Judd said during the mid-show tour de force, The Judds' No. 1 hit "I Know Where I'm Going." "I want to reach people with music."

And that's what Judd did, in an hour-and-45 minute show of 16 songs. It was a statement, and performance, from which every younger country singer could learn volumes.

The other statement, which came after just two songs, was this: "I'm feeling sassy tonight; get ready!" the recently-turned-50 Wynnona said. "I am a woman with attitude. Think you can handle it?"

That attitude and personality helped carry through the music, and also could school a legion of young country singers.

Of course, it was important that Wynonna also has a voice better than any young country singer, and used it in spades. And a catalog of hits that is virtually unmatched: the show leaned heavily on her 1980s heyday in The Judds with her mother, Naomi, and her early solo success. Just one song was from the 2000s.

And a five-man band that crackled -- especially her drummer, new husband Cactus Moser.

All those elements were on display from the opening song, "Tell Me Why." It was good music, rooted in traditional country and performed sassy and fun, driven by Wynonna's big voice.

She also ripped through more country/blues songs such as "Rock Bottom" and "What It Takes," the opening song on her 1992 debut disc. That song -- so good, yet never released as a single from an album that had three No. 1 hits -- showed how strong Wynonna's catalog is.

And her band played it for all it was worth, with Moser thumping it along. The band was equally good on the slower, simmering "Only Love," and especially good on "I Saw the Light" -- a great country-pop hit on which Wynonna's voice was playful, soaring and challenging all at the same time.

The concert's mid-section was dominated by Judds hits, and served as a reminder about just how good that duo was. "Cry Myself to Sleep" was bluesy and ominous, with Moser's drums thumping with the sound of a slide guitar.

"Why Not Me," the title track off The Judds' double-platinum debut disc, was even better p--one of the night's best. Talk a bout sassy -- it was. And the band was nearly as sassy as Wynonna.

"I'm the artist formerly known as ...," he jokingly told the audience during her frequent reminiscing about The Judds -- and the contentious working relationship she had with her mother. "I shared a bus with my mom for 10 years," she said. "If it's not one thin, it's your mother."

(It wasn't only her mother that brought out Wynonna's sassy-ness. Her smallish crowd -- perhaps 1,200 -- was loud and enthusiastic, and she acknowledged them often. "Oh my God, you did come," she said at one point. At another, she asked who was seeing her for the first time, then responded, "Bout frickin' time!"

But The Judds songs also showed what great music that friction produced. "Young Love (Strong Love)" was slow and sensitive, with Wynonna seated on a stool. "Love is Alive," which Wynonna said she and Cactus have adopted as their theme song, was intense, with Wynonna singing in a siren voice.

And the aforementioned No. 1 hit "I Know Where I'm Going" was the concert's strong centerpiece. It stretched more than 15 minutes as she played harmonica, let Moser play a long drum-and-piano interlude, spotlighted her pedal steel guitar player and had interplay with her husband on his drum kit.

If there was a small complaint, it was that she didn't play enough of her own hits, but the solo sons she played were great, too. "When I Reach the Place I'm Going" from her debut started ominous and built from there. It was another song from which young country could learn: Like most of Wynonna's songs, it had depth, texture and meaning.

The one "newer" song, "What the World Needs" -- the title track from her 2003 disc, even it is more than a decade old -- was much more contemporary pop than country, but she also did it better than any new country singer does.

She even made a cover of Foreigner's treacly "I Want to Know What Love Is" really good -- ending with a long, strong note. Then she closed her main set with her No.1 hit "No One Else on Earth," sung great as she danced slightly, the audience singing along and giving her a standing ovation.

She opened her encore with a great version of The Judds hit "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)," with all her players gathered around a single mic and playing acoustic -- it got another standing ovation. Then she told the audience, "You think I'm really sweet, but I'm not."

And she closed the show with another cover -- Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll," which she sang with Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson on CMT's "Crossroads" a decade ago. Judd's voice wailed like Robert Plant's and her band burned up. Moser even played a long spotlight solo with four drumsticks, then stood and ripped open his shirt.

Talk about sassy.

John.moser@mcall.com

Twitter @joihnjmoser

610-820-6722

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