First things first blues fans, Janiva Magness puts her own spin on everything she sings. She’s spent most of her career creating great blues music, but I don’t think that genre can hold her any more. Her last couple of albums have seen her moving away from the confines of blues and more into a different, unique territory. At the last concert I caught her, she referred to this new direction as, “Pure Americana. That is, real musicians playing real music on real instruments, live.”
Have no fear, there’s no way she can leave all of her blues roots behind. She approaches every note with all of her heart and soul and delivers it with verve. For her latest album, Change In The Weather – Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty on BlueElan Records, she has chosen twelve songs written by one of America’s best songwriters of the 20th Century.
Fogerty was the driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival before stepping out on his own and carving out a significant solo career. Many of his best known songs still receive airplay on classic rock stations and every so often you can even catch one of his deep tracks.
Fogerty is another artist that creates his own style of music. CCR played a pivotal part of ‘60’s and ‘70’s music playing a brand a swamp rock that lit up the airwaves. Their raw power and approach blended rock with folk, and yes, some blues, and they put their mark on some exciting sounds.
I still remember the first time I heard songs like Bad Moon Rising, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, and Fortunate Son on the radio. It was a time when music was exciting and often experimental, and Fogerty’s words were powerful and often like a smack in the face against many of the formulaic bubblegum and overly saccharine love songs. Protest songs were no longer the sole domain of the folk crowd. CCR turned in one of the most powerful protest songs, Fortunate Son, that still gives me (and I suspect others) chills when I hear it.
The twelve songs that Magness has chosen for this album are a mix of hits and deep tracks. Magness delivers each number with passion, and despite their familiarity to many listeners of a certain age, they all seem fresh and new. I can’t wait to see Magness in concert when she will take on some of these songs live.
For eleven of the twelve songs Magness was joined by Gary Davenport on bass; Steve Wilson on drums and percussion; Zachary Ross on guitar and dobro; Dave Darling on guitar; and Arlan Oscar on Hammond Organ, piano, and Wurlitzer. Backing vocals were by Bernie Barlow, Magness, Darling, and Ross. For the last song Rusty Young was on dobro and guitar; Jesse Dayton and Darling on guitar; Aubrey Richmond on fiddle; with additional vocals by Young, Darling, Dayton, and Richmond.
Magness and Company start the album with the title track, Change In The Weather. Originally a Grammy Award-winner song from Fogerty’s 1986 album, Eye Of The Zombie. It was also covered by Buddy Guy in the mid-90’s. A song perfectly chosen to show that an artist is at a crossroad, looking to grow, but perhaps reluctant to let go of what was worked in the past. Originally a protest song, Magness turns it into a gorgeous personal statement.
For the next track, Magness teams with Sam Morrow for a powerful duet on Fogerty’s Lodi. Originally the song was a CCR B-side with Bad Moon Rising, and it went on to receive airplay on a number of album rock stations. This is the first of two duets that Magness performs on the album and she gets down and gritty on the number.
Originally released in 2013, Someday Never Comes is a powerful song whose lyrics are beautiful blues poetry. Magness reaches deep into her soul to pull out this song. Wrote A Song For Everyone wasis best known as the title track from a solo album also in 2013. It was a collection of CCR songs and deep tracks (and a couple of new tunes) that Fogerty recorded with his friends. Miranda Lambert and Tom Morello joined Fogerty on the 2013 release. Magness does a good version of the song, but it’s never been one of my favorites.
Magness then teams up with the great Taj Mahal to drop an outstanding version of Don’t You Wish It Was True. Originally released in 2007 on Revival, Fogerty’s song is a vision of all the good things one could possibly wish for. Magness and Mahal have great chemistry together and this is easily one of my favorite songs on the album. I’m definitely scheduling this one for airplay on Time For The Blues, and I think you’ll be hearing it on other shows as well.
Another favorite song, Have You Ever Seen The Rain, becomes a haunting ballad of loss and sadness. Magness delivers the song and wrings out every bit of emotion that the lyrics demand. It’s gorgeous and ever Fogerty/CCR fan will hear this song in a new way.
Perhaps the best known CCR song after Proud Mary, and the one whom nearly everyone sings the wrong lyrics to, Bad Moon Rising, and Magness is deep into her blues roots for it. Here, she goes deep into the swamp to bring out the darkness of the song (which has been covered by something like 20 musical artists and has been used in about the same number of movies). It’s one that most fans have loved since it was released in 1969 on Green River. It comes with great expectations and Magness delivers a great version here. Look for this one to get some serious airplay.
Originally on 1997’s album Blue Moon Swamp, Blueboy is the only song I can find that features both Fogerty and bass player extraordinaire, Donald “Duck” Dunn. Magness has a lot of fun with the song, and it serves as a nice transition from Bad Moon Rising to the next song, Fortunate Son. Fortunate Son is without a doubt my favorite song in the Fogerty Canon. Originally a CCR song released in 1969, it became one of the greatest protest songs against the Vietnam War. It wasn’t explicit in its condemnation of the war, but it did cover the unfairness of it. For those of us who lived through that time, we constantly heard about this son of a Congressman, or the son of a rich man getting out of going to Vietnam and the rest of the country being drafted to find themselves in combat that they wanted no part of. I approached the song cautiously as it did mean so much to me, but I didn’t have to worry, Magness delivers a knockout performance of the song, and it’s the closest I’ve ever come to hearing Janis Joplin sing it. Her voice is rough and emotional, her screams are piercing and the piano work by Arlan Oscar is superior. It was the first song I had to hit the repeat button on and one I had to share with friends and family. Even though it’s not strictly blues, I guarantee you’re going to hear it on Time For The Blues. Stick around for it.
Okay, since I’m talking about Vietnam, please let me speak to the service men and women who were so badly treated when they returned home. I wish I could apologize for every single member of my generation who took out the anger on the people who deserved our compassion. It was not their fault that they were sent to fight that war, and we should have been able to care for them when they returned broken and destroyed. I lost several friends to that war, and their death still haunts me. So, from me, thank you for your service, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive those who turned their back on you.
Back to the music. Following the power of Fortunate Son, Magness stays with protest, but in a softer style for Déjà Vu (All Over Again). This song was the title track from a 2004 release and takes a look at what was going on in Iraq and how it appears to be similar to what happened in Vietnam.
The gospel tinged A Hundred And Ten In The Shade tells the story of African American slaves who were forced to work in the hot sun all day in the south. Originally from 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp, Magness tells the story with her own power and passion. This is another song that is definitely at the heart of the blues.
Going out with everybody kicking back and having fun, Magness and friends drop a raucous Lookin’ Out My Back Door to end the album. I always loved the joy contained in the song and you just can’t help getting swept up in the fun. It’s a perfect ending to a great album.
It’s no secret that I am a fanboy for Janiva Magness and I have gladly followed her through the past several years of her career even as she explores new musical choices. Maybe especially as she explores new horizons. I know I won’t like every single thing she does, but I do appreciate that she is growing and changing and still goes out on the road performing great music.
Oh, she’s also a great writer. If you haven’t gotten a copy of her book, Weeds Like Us, may I suggest you get a copy pdq. You’ll get a look at her early years, her family, and her music, all written in an honest and straightforward way. I recommend it highly and will be dropping a review of it shortly.
In the meantime, check her outat her website.