Janiva Magness


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Original Review

by Steve Leggett

Janiva Magness saw her share of hard times growing up in Detroit, losing both of her parents to suicide when she was in her early teens, and she ending up living on the streets when she wasn't being shuffled through endless foster homes; then pregnant at 17, she was forced to give up her baby for adoption. When she discovered the blues at an Otis Rush show, it wasn't hard for her to recognize what the blues was and how it spoke to her. Blessed with a sultry voice and a natural understanding of emotional nuance and phrasing, and with a good deal of that Motown R&B in her natural fiber, she developed into a striking blues, R&B, and soul singer, releasing several albums of blues, R&B, and Americana, including several with Alligator Records between 2008 and 2012. Then things unraveled once again for Magness. Her long-running marriage to songwriter Jeff Turmes fell apart, eight of her friends and relatives died, including the one foster mother who had encouraged her singing, and Magness herself underwent an operation for a serious neck injury that left her unable to sing for a time. She had also left Alligator Records. All of this travail feeds directly into Original, the album where Magness steps fully into her own, co-writing eight of the 11 songs, and revealing herself as an intelligent and emotionally relentless singer and writer with some stories to tell. The opener, "Let Me Breathe," is full of a suffocating and passionate honesty, an intimate shuffle that is part R&B, part gospel, and part confession. The same sort of open-hearted examination of mistakes, wrong turns, and attempts at redemption flows through these songs, particularly in the deep blues of "When You Were My King," the gospel-tinged ballad "Mountain," and the gentle, intimate "Standing," which closes the set out. Magness takes things upbeat here, too, particularly in the joyous, sassy strut and stomp of "I Need a Man." This is easily her best album, mostly for the heartbreaking exactness of her writing, which allows her amazing voice to live and breathe from inside her own emotional life and find its own artistry.

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