Janiva Magness – Stronger For It (Alligator/Southbound) CD REVIEW

October 9, 2014
1 min read

PARTS OF THIS album remind me of that classic scene in the film Ghost World where a new girlfriend reacts to the main character’s love of old blues by taking him to a bar where a really horrible, very white band play gratuitous heavy blues/rock that’s about as subtle as a flying mallet, and he shrinks into his seat as his new flame does what bad girlfriends do, and wants to dance to shit.
Not that Stronger For It is a bad album – far from it. As the title suggests, Magness channels some of her bitterest experiences with men into this album, and sometimes it’s pretty no-holds-barred in its condemnation of certain individuals.
And she’s got the voice to do it: a slightly husky, big old holler of a voice that puts passing trends like Adele in their place. Magness expresses through her vocal cords with about as much ease and familiarity as she’d feel wearing a pair of thigh-high rhinestones, and most of the time, her electric blues group back her up with professionalism-verging-on-panache.
At their best, there’s a moodiness to their performances, a slight funk groove buried in the blues, and some resonating organ and guitar work; but at their worst, they fire things up and make out like that bar band from hell. Thankfully, the worst doesn’t happen that often.
The sound helps. It’s both detailed and gutsy and nicely analogue-sounding, and nothing harsh or thin (that is, over-compressed) in the mix.
It’s a pity that Magness doesn’t write more. In fact, only three of the twelve songs are self-written, and the others obviously chosen because their sentiments match her mood: writers include Tom Waits, Shelby Lynne and Matthew Sweet.
While a little goes a long way – Magness’ voice doesn’t do sweet and sensitive and you have to be in the mood for her raw ululations – Stronger For It is a pretty good record.
Note: Magness has a pretty compelling background – both parents killed themselves when she was a young teen, and she later ended up living on the streets. Unlike Simone Felice (see my review elsewhere) her PR blurb doesn’t mention this background story, but if you’re the type of guy that needs a whiff of tragedy behind every emotive vocal, then she’s your gal. GARY STEEL
Music = 3.5 stars
Sound = 4

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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