Album Reviews

Janiva Magness – Original (Fathead Records)

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Javina Magness originalCareer trajectories can take some interesting turns. Janiva Magness rose from relative obscurity to winning four Blues Awards and three highly acclaimed albums during her six year period with Alligator Records.   I can still vividly hear the joy in her voice in 2008 when she told my radio audience that she had just signed with the label. Yet, to make this record, she had to part ways with the respected independent label to forge her own way.  She explains it this way, “..this album demanded a high level of vulnerability to tell the absolute truth in every song…This is also an album that couldn’t be made with another record company because we needed to be able to go wherever we wanted musically to tell its stories.”

The last decade was very rewarding for Magness musically and personally, but this decade has seen her lose close friends, her foster mother, and a 17 year marriage.   In addition, she suffered a neck injury that threatened to end her career.  Thus, this album, her first of primarily original song-writing focuses on suffering, resiliency, and recovery.

You won’t find 12-bar blues here.  Instead, it’s mostly a soul and R&B backing through her long-time producer Dave Darling.  The results are sometimes startling as in the opening lines, “Nobody’s perfect/Nobody knows that more than me” in “Let Me Breathe”.  Emotions run the gamut from anger (“Badass”) to resolve (“The Hard Way”) as we listen to the celebratory Memphis soul in “Mountain” and hints of Motown in “With Love” to the memorable  chorus-filled “Standing”.  The power and versatility of her marvelous voice is tested here like never before and proves to be deftly capable of conveying a stunning range of feelings. This is the ever stoic Magness potentially reaching an even wider audience as she broadens her scope to roots and soul.

– Jim Hynes

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