The Judds

Why Not Me

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Despite the promise of their self-titled debut album, Naomi and Wynonna Judd struck pay dirt by issuing the bona fide classic Why Not Me, their sophomore outing from 1984. It was produced by Brent Maher and recorded with a small group of session players who were chosen as carefully as the songs were. From the opening track, the title cut, written by greats Harlan Howard, Sonny Throckmorton, and Maher, it is obvious what a showcase this is for Wynonna Judd's stylized singing. Her big throaty voice rings clear and wide, pulling up every ounce of emotion from the song's root; her phrasing is perfect, and Naomi's harmonies are golden; they soar, float, and lilt in contrast, complement, and counterpoint to her daughter's lead. The elder Judd is also a fine songwriter in that track two, "Mr. Pain," is one of the finest songs on the set, full of beauty and vulnerability but ever present with hope. But it's not until track three, "Drops of Water," that the album breaks wide open. Here Wynonna proves she can sing from the rockabilly side of country as well. From her gritty lead vocal to her sweet swing-style harmony with Naomi and killer dobro runs from Sonny Garrish, the tune is irresistible. "My Baby's Gone" is another such moment, a tough, lean, bluesy shuffle graced with Andrews Sisters-styled harmonies and country guitar picking from Don Potter that turns this into a stomper. The ballads work too, however, on "Sleeping Heart" or the blues-rooted "By Bye Baby Blues," which is penned by the Howard/Throckmorton/Maher team and is country music from the Patsy Cline fake book. The elements of jazz and early-'60s countrypolitan are impossible not to remember. But that's what makes the Judds so special -- they can sing it all. All they need is the material, and when they get it -- and they do here in spades -- they are virtually untouchable. With Wynonna's voice being one of the best in the history of the music, and Naomi's harmonizing being literally the most unconventional, they are wall-to-wall original as an act. With the two closers, "Endless Sleep," a solid rocker in the "Heartbreak Hotel" tradition, and the plaintive "Mama He's Crazy," the duo accomplish the impossible: becoming a longstanding duo who consistently rode the top of the charts until Naomi left for health reasons and who remained a bona fide country music act. Of all their recordings, Why Not Me is their best-known, best-selling, and deservedly so. It's perfect.

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