Wynonna Judd didn’t exactly take an extended hiatus following the release of What the World Needs Now Is Love in 2003, but her attention did drift away from new songs. She dabbled in her past – she staged a live retrospective, embraced nostalgia on her 2006 Christmas album, sang covers on 2009’s Sing: Chapter 1, reteamed with her mother Naomi for a brief Judds reunion in the early years of the 2010s – but never looked forward until she and husband Cactus Moser formed Wynonna & the Big Noise in 2012.
It took a while for the band’s eponymous debut to come out – it was originally announced for a 2013 release but didn’t hit stores until February 2016, its delay possibly due to the underperformance of “Something You Can’t Live Without” in 2013, or perhaps it took the group a while to get the album right. Either way, the resulting album feels neither fussy nor rushed: this music is well weathered, embracing its slow, steady roll and cherishing its old-fashioned contours. That’s not to say that Wynonna & the Big Noise are either unaware or uninterested in modern music. Two of the biggest rebels in 2010s Nashville have a presence here – Chris Stapleton co-wrote the opening “Ain’t No Thing” and Jason Isbell duets on “Things That I Lean On” – but a greater indication of how assured and muscular Wynonna & the Big Noise feels are cameos by both members of Tedeschi and Trucks, both providing a big, bluesy kick whose aftershocks are felt elsewhere, surfacing in slow, swampy vamps and soulful grooves.
Despite this embrace of blues and rebellion, much of Wynonna & the Big Noise is rooted in soul, whether it’s the down-home faith of “Jesus and a Jukebox” or the sharp cover of Raphael Saadiq’s “Staying in Love.” The presence of the latter suggests just how casually inclusive and sharp this album is: freed of commercial expectations and paired with an empathetic band, Wynonna will sing anything she damn well pleases and she’s wound up with a monster of an album.