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Lead Performance: Wynonna

As half of the Judds, Wynonna was always the meat to her mother's meringue. Since breaking out on her own eight years ago, she's sold some 9 million records, but she also lost much of her focus, distracted by marriage, motherhood, and divorce, and the ongoing soap opera with Naomi. With a recent label change, however, Wy announced to the press that she hoped ''to reinvent my life, mind, body, and spirit.''

In large part, New Day Dawning is a remarkable regrouping of the singer's energies and talents. After a three-year absence, she sounds not just rejuvenated -- coproducing for the first time -- but on fire again, even reuniting with her mother on four tracks (offered as a limited-edition bonus EP).

As before, Wynonna, now 36, draws on the styles that shaped her -- the California country blues of Bonnie Raitt, the funk & roll of Lowell George, the L.A. jazz of Joni Mitchell, whose ''Help Me'' she replicates here with shimmering precision. Often, as on the yearning ballad ''Can't Nobody Love You (Like I Do),'' her enormous contralto nearly bursts with emotional resonance. But mostly, Wynonna appears keen on crafting a record of undeniable grooves. A growly cover of the Fabulous Thunderbirds' ''Tuff Enuff'' and the Tina Turnerish ''Chain Reaction'' are pedal-to-the-metal cruisin' music, updated with whispered raps and hiccupping instrumental lines.

Yet New Day Dawning has a disappointingly familiar feel. Aside from a cover of Macy Gray's ''I Can't Wait to Meetchu,'' which is more mess than magic, Wy rarely steps out in her choice of material. And by including the new Judds tracks, it's as if Naomi's daughter still can't leave home. The record company rightfully fears the Judds songs will steal Wynonna's thunder. Two of the four -- the rockabilly blues of ''Stuck in Love'' and the Andrews Sisters-esque ''Big Bang Boogie'' -- prove the duo has an electrifying cachet that Wynonna lacks alone.

Wynonna says she's not as interested in paving a new road as she is in forging a connection. That's fine for sales. But it also makes New Day Dawning merely a good album from an artist capable of greatness. B -- Alanna Nash


Wynonna New Day Dawning CURB/MERCURY

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