Wynonna Judd making big noise as she climbs her way back up

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Wynonna Judd clawed her way to the top of the country music mountain more than two decades ago. The Appalachia native reached the peak in the mid-1980s and remained there well into the 1990s, picking up five Grammy awards as the younger half of The Judds and four nominations as a solo performer during that period. Now, after a steep descent, the 53-year-old is beginning another climb.

When Judd's new band, Wynonna & The Big Noise, arrives at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Sunday as a part of its Roots & Revival Tour, the group's mission is clear: honor Judd's early successes with her mother, Naomi Judd, by using her booming voice to propel her career upward once more. Critics praised the band's genre-defying 2016 debut record, "Wynonna & The Big Noise," the first Judd album with predominantly original material since 2003.

"Now that Judd has embraced the stripped-down, Americana-tinged side of her musical identity, she's making the best music of her career," The Houston Press' Amy McCarthy wrote, listing the debut as one of her 10 best country albums of 2016.

Rolling Stone's Stephen L. Betts called the record "a wide-open power surge of crunchy blues and Americana, with plenty of the country music [Judd] sang as one-half of the Judds."

To be certain, the critics won't solely determine the ultimate destination of Judd's latest climb; her group's ability to infiltrate a bro country-dominated commercial space will also be vital. Thus far, sales have lagged behind critical acclaim. Still, more than 19 months after the record's release, the band's frontwoman is relishing the opportunity to revitalize her music.

"I'm so full of joy," Judd said during a pool interview earlier this month. "This is like my third life, like a brand new career, because I'm both tough and tender."

Beyond a devotion to a soulful sound, another similarity connects the third act of Judd's career to her first: collaboration with a family member. During her youth, Judd teamed with her mother to churn out hits like "Mama He's Crazy," "Why Not Me" and "Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Ol' Days)." But once her mother retired in 1991, Judd had to claim her own territory. A fiercely rebellious performer, she was up to the solo challenge, her first four albums going platinum. However, her fifth album, 2000's "New Day Dawning," was a commercial disappointment. Three years later, "What the World Needs Now Is Love," didn't match her early records' sales, either. Judd's weight issues and DUI arrest made headlines that year, and suddenly she was getting the Oprah treatment. (Marital and money issues also cropped up.)

Marrying drummer Cactus Moser, Judd's third husband, in 2012 temporarily provided stability. That changed after a motorcycling accident led to a prosthetic leg for Moser and more emotional damage for Judd.

Both have recovered. Moser produced Wynonna & The Big Noise's first album, encouraging his wife to return to her musical roots, her lyrics tinged with love. Some people misconstrue the band's help for a sign that Judd's voice is receding, according to the singer.

"There are people who are saying, 'The Big Noise is too big. She's getting lost in it and her husband's taking over,'" Judd told Rolling Stone in 2016. "They obviously don't know me very well."


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