Artist: Janiva Magness
Album: Love Wins Again
Label: Blue Élan Records
Release Date: 04/08/2016
It’s refreshing to see Janiva Magness so happy. This music certainly reflects it, as do her words in the liner notes, “now mind you, left to my own, I could never imagine me as happy. Not like this. I certainly would not trust it. Then again, happy has never been my nature. Funny thing is, these days I have actual consecutive days and nights of happy.” Her last few albums, especially 2014’s Original, were heart wrenchingly honest, yet resilient amidst the sadness. This one bristles with joy as she taps into her Detroit origins with a mostly Motown kind of sound. “Love is a bigger power than hate and darkness. It’s easy to forget that when we’re struggling or when the world often seems frightening and out of control. But love can transcend barriers between people and cultures, and bring us closer in ways we might not have imagined. Love can also be frightening. It requires opening yourself up and taking risks, but in the end, love will always win,” says Magness. You can infer in those words that these songs are as deeply personal as any she as written. I’ve been privileged to see her perform these songs live just a few weeks ago, and joy was unmistakably emblazoned all over her face.
With a childhood spent in several foster homes and having endured several rocky relationships, Magness managed to channel her pain through her searing, gut-wrenching voice which earned her 25 BMA nominations and 7 wins. Last year was a remarkable year for her, having completed her memoir, launching a musical about her life story and marrying English bluesman and singer-songwriter T. J. Norton.
This is her fifth collaboration with producer Dave Darling, and the second release on her own imprint. All songs except her cover of John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See the Light” were penned by Magness, Darling, or both. You’ll hear her stories in “Love Wins Again,” “Doorway” and “Say You Will.” Even when she steps away from that style in “Your House Is Burning Down,” she finds urgency and a summoning to action in a tone a bit more gritty than she displays elsewhere.
Up until a couple of years ago, it’s fair to say that Magness was a great vocalist and interpreter of blues songs. Now she is a full-fledged songwriter, plumbing the emotional depths of her personal experience. We’ve heard the low and now we get this highly danceable R&B record. You can’t help but smile.