in performance: wynonna


wynonna judd.

To paraphrase a classic song title, everyday may not necessarily be a holiday for Wynonna Judd. But judging by the gusto and spirit that drove her performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, the Kentucky born country star supplied an array of Yuletide tunes with the same vocal nerve as the many country-pop hits she has chalked up over the past three decades. Leave to Judd not to discriminate.

Take the show opening Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. When the song reached the “deck the halls” reference in its chorus, Judd’s left hand became a clenched first while a vocal roar slid between bared teeth. Sure, the seasonal mood was still there. But Judd also looked like she was ready to deck something (or someone) other than the halls.

Last night’s program was billed as A Simpler Christmas. In essence, that was what she delivered – or at least, intended. The stage was adorned with candles, antique lamps, a Christmas tree and the like, giving it the air of a Cracker Barrel. Judd also employed a resourceful four member band, which included husband Cactus Moser. A mandolinist and very capable drummer, Moser figured as much into the show as an onstage foil for Judd’s lengthy between song chats as an instrumentalist.

But “simpler” seldom translated in subtle or even gentle. At 51, Judd has lost little of the jackhammer potency of her vocal charge. That explains how familiar Christmas yarns like Joy to the World and Jingle Bells were transformed into hardened, almost guttural blues-based jams. The same held true for some of the non-holiday fare. Judd’s vocal grit didn’t so much toughen an encore cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah as wrestle it to the ground.

Granted, such spunk has long been at the heart of Judd’s vocal style. The 1984 Judds hit Love is Alive and a solemn, stoic show-closing sing-a-long of Silent Night were the closest things to reserve reflected within the performance. The singer’s 1992 solo career breakthrough single No One Else on Earth better reflected the concert’s overall tone and temperament.

Such were the makings of this Simpler Christmas on a not so silent night.

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