Janiva Magness released one of my favorite albums from last year, Love Wins Again. And she’s back with a new album again this year, Blue Again. This year’s release is a throwback to her earlier stricter blues and rhythm and blues and features six songs that were originally released by other artists.
But with a talent like Magness, these just aren’t run of the mill covers. She has dug down a little deeper to find some songs that don’t get trotted out at every bar gig, and given them all the Magness touch. She is in such good form on this album, and the songs she chose just adds to the fun.
Magness is backed up by Zach Zunis and Garrett Deloian on guitar; Gary “Scruff” Davenport on bass; Matt Teen on drums; and Arlan Schierbaum on Hammond Organ. Special guests include David “Kid” Ramos on guitar for I Can Tell; Sugarray Rayford on vocals for If I Can’t Have You; and T.J. Norton on harp on Buck.
Bo Diddley’s 1962 release, I Can Tell, kickstarts the album. This is a great opening, plenty of energy, and Magness’ vocals are so sharp they could cut through a two-dollar steak. The guitar work is fine, and the song stands up to the best of the covers, as well as Diddley’s original.
Donny Hathaway had one of the most expressive voices in the rhythm and blues and soul genres. Magness takes on his beautiful song, I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, and delivers a wonderful version of it. I’ve always loved the original release and this one does a great job. I’m interested in seeing where Magness is going with this album, performing all covers but doing such a great interpretation of them. The songs obviously have a deep connection to her and oh my God, does she sing the hell out of them.
Up next is If I Can’t Have You, which is not the disco song written by Barry Gibb, but the beautiful duet that Etta James and Harvey Fuqua performed. Here, Magness teams up with Sugarray Rayford. There’s plenty of soul to go around on this one as they both reach deep into their hearts to deliver an impressive duet.
Little Joe Hinton’s Tired Of Walking follows. It’s a raucous number filled with shouts and a fast-paced delivery. It’s a rocking number that takes off and keeps on moving. It’s a great song and one that I want to see her perform live at some point. It sounds like the band is having a great time laying this one down.
Buck was written by Andy Stroud, but was made famous by the wonderful Nina Simone. It’s the shortest song on the album, clocking in at about 2:30 and features some cool harp by T.J. Norton. Magness’ vocals are sweet – at times teasing and purring, other times sharp and pointed. It’s a good song, and honestly one I hadn’t heard in a long time. Might have to correct that and get it on Time For The Blues.
Freddie King’s Pack It Up brings the album to a close. No disrespect to either Albert or B.B., but Freddie was always my favorite King. It’s great to hear a talent like Magness take on one of his best and deliver in a big way. Her voice is in great form and this one will definitely be making the rounds on all of the blues programs.
Janiva Magness’ last album was so good I wondered what she would do to follow up. Love Wins Again was a brave personal journey and showed that she was taking her music in a slightly different direction. So many of us responded to it positively and it was nominated for both a Grammy and a Blues Music Award.
This time she’s chosen to explore some of the songs that influenced her, and she’s put her stamp on them. She’s honored the original recordings but not delivered a note-for-note interpretation of them. It’s a strong album, or EP, or whatever label you wish to use for a CD with six songs, but honestly, I would rather listen to something with six killer cuts on it than get one with 14 not so great tunes.
There’s quality over quantity on Blue Again, and that’s good enough for me! Be sure to keep checking http://janivamagness.com/ where you can preorder the album and see if she’s going to be touring near you.