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Weekend Reviews : Pop : Wynonna Transcends Country, and Clint Too


ANAHEIM — Country music's stylistic borders are being constantly redrawn these days, but wherever they end up, they won't mean a thing to Wynonna Judd. Her performance on Saturday at the Anaheim Arena, where she co-headlined with Clint Black, showcased a musical force too powerful to be contained by mere genre restrictions.

When Judd went on her own last year after a successful duo career with her mother Naomi, there was no question about the power and versatility of her voice. The unknown was what she would do with it and what role she would assume for her audience.

On Saturday, Judd was a roaring, growling rocker, a jubilant gospel singer, a tender balladeer, a blues belter--if she wanted, you suspect, she could focus on any of those styles and come up with a great album.

On top of that potential to transcend country music like no country artist since Willie Nelson, Judd seems to sense that she can become something important and meaningful to her audience.

There were some playful moments, both musical (Mary-Chapin Carpenter's lively declaration of independence, "Girls With Guitars") and theatrical (bringing guys up from the audience to dance).

But Judd's most significant gestures were her simple statements of purpose--a "believe-in-yourself" pep talk before the Judds hit "Why Not Me," a promise of solace and relief from burdens later on. Judd brought it off with conviction; the sentiments were given further substance by the music that surrounded them--it prepared you to receive her, to use a gospel term.

There are still some growing pains. At first her band seemed so slick as to seal out all spontaneity, and the musicians' dance steps were a little too close to Osmonds territory for comfort. But as she and the musicians--particularly her three fiery singers--loosened up, the music gained the kind of freedom that reinforced her message. (Whatever its musical and cultural significance, it's worth noting that Judd is the only country act in recent memory to include African-Americans in her band.)

Especially in the wake of Hurricane Wynonna, the amiable Black seemed a virtual nonentity. As if that needed underscoring, Judd's brief reappearance early in his set for their hit duet "A Bad Goodbye" immediately charged the room and elevated the energy level, which sagged with her departure.

Black then settled into an efficient but uneventful run through his songbook, which combines elements of Western-swing and '70s folk-pop, and is sparked by some offbeat, intelligent and introspective songs written by Black and his guitarist Hayden Nicholas. But they don't come across with much impact live, and the smiling, casual Black simply doesn't have much presence as a performer.

The bill returns with shows Oct. 3 and 4 at the Greek Theatre.

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