Janiva Magness: Blue Again (Blue Elan Records)
Hot on the heels of last year’s outstanding release, Love Wins Again, Grammy-nominated Janiva Magness has recorded a short album of old blues songs entitled, appropriately enough, Blue Again. She says the blues “refreshes and rejuvenates” her and that the blues is a “sword” that cuts through all the lies that litter our world. She says the blues are “sustenance,” a “meal that gets you through the day.”
And so Magness has provided us with her own blues snack – six old blues songs, mostly from the 1960s, all classics, but served up with Magness’s soulful delivery and her band’s tight-knit musical chops.
The album opens with Samuel Smith’s I Can Tell, first recorded by Bo Diddley in 1962. Magness’s version is slower, more earthy, the singer caressing the lyrics with great feeling and Kid Ramos adding some classic-sounding blues guitar.
I Love you More than You’ll Ever Know is Al Cooper’s (of Blood Sweat and Tears) tribute to Otis Redding and James Brown from 1968. It’s had some superb covers over the years, including Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart, Amy Winehouse, and Natalie Cole. Magness’s version slows the number right down and squeezes every ounce of emotion from the song, aided by her band’s tasteful guitar and organ work.
Janiva shares the vocals with Sugaray Rayford on Etta James’s 1960 classic, If I Can’t Have You, which replicates in its own way the raunchiness of the original version and features David Ramos on guitar. This is followed by an upbeat foot stomping version of Little Joe Hinton’s uptempo R&B Rocker from 1962, Tired of Walking. Andy Stroud’s Buck, recorded by Nina Simone in1967, becomes much more playful in Magness’s hands and features some tasty harmonica by T.J. Norton.
Magness closes the album in some style with Pack It Up, by Bud Beadle and others from 1974. This is another number that has been covered by major artists like Freddie King, Joe Bonamassa, Tab Benoit, but Magness more than holds her own with her top notch vocal performance.
This is a very fine – if lamentably short! – album of classic blues covers which delivers at every level – in terms of musicianship, heart, honesty and soul.