A portrait of an artist in transition, Wynonna’s Revelations is a disappointing album that still manages to underscore all of this gifted singer’s talents. The collection, Wynonna’s first since 1993’s Tell Me Why, starts off strongly enough with ”To Be Loved By You,” already a country hit single for the way she snakes her voice in and out of its slippery melody. But too many of revelations’ songs remain at the same medium-tempo of ”To Be Loved,” giving even the better vocal performances an air of repetitiveness.
The primary revelation I had listening to this set was that Wynonna has, for such a young old pro (she’s 31 and a new wife and mother), become much too mannered far too quickly. Back when she and mama Naomi were still the Judds, it was a happy shock to hear the way Wynonna could, in the middle of one of the duo’s catchy little ditties, lower her voice to an Elvis growl. Now, Wynonna pulls this trick without a trace of humor; the melodramatic rumble is, far too often, the only way she communicates yearning and sensuousness. This is what makes supposed rockers like ”Somebody to Love You” and ”Old Enough to Know Better” such hollow experiences.
Wynonna’s most obvious mistake was to include her version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ”Free Bird.” Not only is it floridly low-flying, but it’s also overexposed, having been included on a 1994 salute to Skynyrd. Her less obvious mistake is ”Dance! Shout!,” a would-be gospel rave-up that closes revelations. Although the singer knows the effect she’s striving for — you can hear the way she has studied Aretha Franklin’s gospel phrasing and testifying — the tune is weak in spirit.
Drawing on a pool of songwriters that includes dependables like Mike Reid, Gary Nicholson, and Delbert McClinton, Revelations has a startling paucity of crisp, memorable melodies. Much of the music is nice, but ”nice” isn’t up to the standards of the possessor of one of country’s strongest voices. Next time, Wynonna needs to let loose: fewer attempts at revelation and more at revolution.