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Published October 06 2011

Morast: No matter where she performs, Wynonna’s a country classic

If You Go

Wynonna Judd will be performing tonight at the Shooting Star Casino.

For some reason, that sentence feels like the set-up for a bad joke about a washed-up country singer.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Not for Wynonna.

Not for a woman who truly has one of the great voices in the history of country music.

The best compliment to Wynonna’s voice is that when I think of her contemporaries, none is a country singer. Categorically, I want to assign her into a room filled with R&B singers ranging from Whitney Houston to Beyonce.

Strange? Only if you assume Wynonna’s country-charting status defines her style. Listen to her voice, and you don’t hear Loretta Lynn’s sharp warbling, you don’t hear Martina McBride’s flawless Americana aesthetic, and you don’t hear Patsy Cline’s classic tone of hopeful sorrow.

Rather, Wynonna sings like Elvis – with a snarling vibe that does more than borrow the attitude and emotional dynamics of R&B or soul singers. Her voice soars with overwhelming force and emotion; yet, she can get soft and tender without coming off as contrived or sacrificing any authenticity. It’s not an easy dynamic to do well, especially in the country spectrum.

And maybe that’s why we don’t remember Wynonna as one of the greats; her nuances and accents have been so different from her contemporaries who, often, seemed content to exist as twangy tarts in tight jeans and cowgirl boots singing about a romanticized idea of love and life.

Next to her they sound hollow and trite. And not just because of her vocal skills.

Whether standing solo or next to her mom, Naomi, in The Judds, Wynonna has maintained a stance of singing from the perspective of working-class women who struggle to keep their families, jobs and love lives intact while fighting the gender divide.

Even now, after being decades removed from a blue-collar lifestyle, Wynonna sounds as “real” as she was when she was trying to convince her momma about her love life in “Mama He’s Crazy.”

At a concert in Sioux City, Iowa, last month, Wynonna talked about how she slapped on Spanx and teased her hair “up to Jesus” to get on stage.

I can’t imagine the controlled images of Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood admitting the same thing.

Or sounding as soulful and powerful as Wynonna.

Her voice, her persona, is a country classic. It’s about time we all start acknowledging that. The girl’s no joke.

Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518