High notes out of reach, Judds still touched hearts

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2010 - 6:11 AM

Wynonna sounded all stuffed up, but she and Naomi managed to put on a memorable show at Mystic Lake.

The Judds, the longest-running soap opera in Nashville, will finally get their own TV series next year on Oprah Winfrey's OWN Network. Cameras are chronicling the mother-and-daughter country duo on their current -- and presumably last -- reunion trek, the Final Encore Tour. TV producers had the Judds go skeet shooting on Tuesday before their concert at Mystic Lake Casino.

"That's not reality -- a mother and daughter with a gun," Wynonna Judd told a sold-out crowd at Mystic Lake.

No, reality was a daughter without a voice. Sounding all stuffed up, Wynonna, 47, couldn't hit her high notes, and her low notes sounded deeper than Louis Armstrong's. Hearing her sing -- well, try to sing -- was so painful at times that you wanted to suck on a Sucrets for her.

Going to see this reunion tour starring one of the greatest female voices to come out of Nashville in the last 25 years (Wynonna has been called the female Elvis) was like going to see the 1971 Elvis Presley and instead experiencing the fading 1977 Elvis.

Since the ever-game Wynonna couldn't be the female Elvis on Tuesday, she became the red-headed Oprah: a self-aware, obsessively self-analytical chatterbox, plying her quick wit, sharp tongue and repository of one-liners. She filled the 2 1/2-hour performance with 31 songs, a few prayers and a couple of apologies -- but no excuses. She still made it a fun and memorable -- in a good way -- evening.

Under the circumstances, harmony singer Naomi Judd, 64, transformed herself into part cheerleader, part doting mother and part polished professional. Back in the Judds' heyday from 1984 to '91 (before Naomi retired because of hepatitis C), Mom was the duo's driving force and mouthpiece onstage, adding gentle harmonies and graceful dancing. On Tuesday, she said precious little and wore a series of glittery dresses, drifting around the stage like a overdressed homecoming queen dancing dreamily by herself at a class reunion. It seemed she needed to wander back and literally touch Wynonna to get her bearings.

Like all Judds concerts, this one featured the kind of mother/daughter bickering that will make for great reality TV. This time, though, Wy did most of the jabbing. When Mom, wearing a tight, above-the-knee sequined dress, tried unsuccessfully to sit on a stool, Wy cracked: "You just about busted the scale."

However, at another point when Mom busted her daughter with a sharp line, the once-sassy Wy admitted to Naomi: "The older I get, the smarter you seem."

Saying her performance (featuring 10 songs from her solo career) "may not be perfect tonight but it's real," Wynonna did manage to pour passion into several pieces: the slow-burning "Born To Be Blue," the stirring "How Great Thou Art," a playful "Don't Be Cruel" (ah, finally the female Elvis), the sentimental "Grandpa" and the emotional "Love Can Build a Bridge."

As Wynonna handed lead vocal chores to her backup singers, it seemed appropriate -- for more reasons than one -- that the Judds ended their Last Encore show with "Silent Night."

For a set list, go to www.startribune.com/artcetera.

Jon Bream • 612-673-1719

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