Review: Janiva Magness – Stronger For It

Posted on: Monday, Mar 26, 2012


(Alligator Records – ALCD 4946)

Ok, it’s still only March, but here is a nailed-on contender for album of the year . . . the third Alligator release from the wonderful Janiva Magness, now firmly at the ‘top of the tree’ some 35 years into her career. On “Stronger For It” she pours her heart and soul out on a wonderful collection, which includes her debut as a songwriter on three songs with producer Dave Darling, and some excellent choices of songs from a variety of writers.

Magness’s vocals front an impressive  group of musicians who comprise of Dave Darling on guitar, bass, piano and backing vocals; long-time guitarist Zach Zunis; the rhythm section of Gary Davenport (bass) and Matt Tecu (drums); with keyboards handled by Jim Alfredson and Arlan Oscar; and backing vocals from Ernie ‘Chico’ Perez and Alfredo ‘Freyco’ Ballesteros; with Brie Darling adding percussion.

The album deals with loss and hurt and then healing, it’s obvious she has been through a tough period in her life and as the title says she has come through it “Stronger For It”. Two of her own co-writes kick the album off, the gritty and soulful “There It Is”, and the deep and moving “I Won’t Cry”, which is outstanding – her fantastic vocal enhanced by the band and in particular Zach Zunis’s sparkling guitar solo.

Her third co-write, “Whistlin’ In The Dark”, has a nice Memphis soul groove to it, and again tells of dark times and the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ . . . . then follows a tough take on Shelby Lynne’s “I’m Alive”, and another gem in Grace Potter’s “Ragged Company”, a beautiful tune and perfectly suited to Janiva Magness’s voice. The late, great Ike Turner’s “You Got What You Wanted” again rides on a fabulous soulful vibe, with Jim Alfredson’s Hammond B-3 organ playing underpinning the song in fine style, and some guitar fireworks from Dave Darling.

The pace is taken down on the soul classic, “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong”, a hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips and co-written by Gladys herself; power-pop performer Matthew Sweet’s “Thought I Knew You” is covered next, with a sweet easy-rolling feel to it.  Magness stamps here authority all over Buddy & Julie Miller’s swampy “Dirty Water”, with some shimmering guitar from Zunis and Darling . . . and totally convincing smouldering vocal from the lady herself.

The a capella intro of “Things Left Undone” is magnificent with Janiva Magness’s voice soaring like an angel on this William Maddox & Paul Thorn song, here given a deep and gospel arrangement, with the band again all quite brilliant. This wonderful album ends with a rousing romp through Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Whoop And Holler” . . . with handclaps and shouts from all the band . . .  a killer live I would imagine.

A total joy from start to finish with not a duff track in sight . . . . well done all, a treat not to be missed!





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