Review: Janiva Magness – The Devil Is An Angel Too

Posted on: Saturday, Jun 12, 2010


“The Devil Is An Angel Too”

(Alligator Records – ALCD 4935)

Without a doubt this will be in my top five releases of this year – a stunning second Alligator release for the superb Janiva Magness – possibly the current ‘Queen of the Blues’. However, success has been a long haul for the Detroit-born Magness, who has had to contend with several personal tragedies in her life, and released a string of album on labels such as Blue Leaf and Northern Blues, before arriving on Alligator, and releasing “What Love Will Do” in 2008.

“The Devil Is An Angel Too” contains 12 glorious tracks of tales of good and evil, including gems from the likes of Julie Miller, Nick Lowe, Joe Tex and Delbert McLinton, along with some songs from husband Jeff Turmes, who also contributes musically on bass, guitar and saxophone. For a lady long associated with the blues this is a genuine roots music release, spanning many genres, and all featuring her raw and soulful voice.

Magness and co-producer Dave Darling have created an album with a marvellous feel, at times reminding me of the layers and textures that Daniel Lanois produced while working with Emmylou Harris, two perfect examples of this being the stripped-down Jeff Turmes song, “Weeds Like Us”, and the sparse “Homewrecker”, from the pen of the great Nick Lowe. The opening (almost) title cut,  the Julie Miller song “The Devil Is An Angel”, rides on a slippery slide groove from Turmes, with more guitar from Dave Darling and Stephen Hodges on drums.

Apart from Janiva Magness herself, the star of the show here is the marvellous guitar work of Zach Zunis, who fires the soul classic “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” into action, and indeed, his playing is superb throughout. Magness stays in soulful territory on the funky “Slipped, Tripped And Fell In Love”, leading into a really nice “I’m Feelin’ Good” – tailormade for her voice. “Walking In The Sun” has that classic Memphis southern soul feel, with more great guitar here.

Gary Nicholson’s “Save Me” has a quite stunning vocal performance on this country-flavoured song, with the pace taken up on “I Want To Do Everything For You” – a Joe Tex classic with gospel overtones and an album highlight. Texas legend Delbert McLInton’s “Your Love Made A U-Turn” is another uptempo, funky treat. The closing “Turn Your Heart In My Direction” is a beautiful ballad from Jeff Turmes – special mention here for Arlan Schierbaum’s piano and Hammond organ – a lovely end to a truly stunning album.


Available on iTunes and other online distributors

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