There’s a massive, mostly empty room at the center of Wynonna Judd’s house with a large picture window that looks out across her farm south of Nashville. The view from the only chair in the room, which Wynonna calls her “prayer chair,” is a serene pasture and pond. The high, vaulted ceilings make singing in that room an acoustic dream, with the bare walls providing natural reverb.
This is where Wynonna recorded her a cappella performance of the standard “Feeling Good” (premiering today), and it all just happened as spontaneously as an act of prayer.
“What came out of my mouth surprised even me,” Wynonna tells Rolling Stone. “I just belted it out.”
This new recording is simply Wynonna singing into her iPhone. No edits. No sweetening. Just pure, God-given talent and emotion. It’s the first taste of the unfiltered experience Wynonna aims to capture as she begins work on her debut album for Anti Records.
“It’s kind of my battle cry for 2019,” Wynonna says of “Feeling Good.” “I am determined to march into this new season with a sense of pure determination, not from arrogance, but from confidence knowing that I have a gift, and I know how to use it.”
Wynonna’s creative instincts and restless artistic impulses should be well known to fans who have been following her career. On one hand, she is a certified country music legend as part of the Grammy-winning duo the Judds, who are the subject of a career-spanning exhibit now open at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. On the other hand, Wynonna possesses a musical spirit more in tune with her long, esteemed list of collaborators, which includes — to name a few — Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Jason Isbell and Mark Knopfler.
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With husband and musical partner Cactus Moser, Wynonna has poured their musical experiments into their band, the Big Noise. They’ve constructed a recording studio on the farm, where Moser tinkers with new sounds and instruments to broaden their sonic palette.
“He’s just so good for me. It blows my mind,” she says. “One night he’s on the phone with [drummer] Jay Bellerose and then the next night he’s going out to see Leon Bridges. Musically, he’s all over the place. That’s what I love about the man.”
Los Angeles-based Anti Records, with its punk pedigree and roster that includes everything from Neko Case and Merle Haggard to post-metal band Deafheaven and Afrobeat revivalists Antibalas, offered Wynonna the kind of arrangement she’d been craving — one based more on song selection than marketing plans. Label head Andy Kaulkin even dispensed with boardroom formalities and opted to visit Wynonna’s farm in Tennessee so they could talk about music.
“Anti gives me room,” she says. “I feel like they get me and they understand that I’m literally one minute listening to Bessie Smith and then the next minute Ann Wilson and Emmylou Harris. It’s crazy. My greatest challenge this year will be focus.”
Wynonna and her team are still laying out the musical parameters for her upcoming album, but a big part of this new partnership will lie in simply documenting the range of work she is already doing onstage. Her raucous shows with the Big Noise push the edges of rock and blues, featuring songs like “Feeling Good,” a swampy take on her hit “Why Not Me,” and a sinuous, groove-driven update of the Judds’ chart-topper “I Know Where I’m Going.” Then there’s the more buttoned-up feel of Wynonna’s symphony shows, where she dips into her love for big band and classic pop vocalists. Those set lists are rounded out with orchestral versions of Wynonna’s hits “Love Can Build a Bridge” and “Only Love.”
With a new deal in place and new music on the way, Wynonna’s future is uncharted — a proposition that excites her.
“I’m figuring it out as we go,” Wynonna says of this next chapter. “I think there was a time in my career where I felt like I was having to oil the machine and keep it cranking. Now, I just want to really get away with as much as possible.”