After over a decade of hard labor in the blues trenches, Janiva Magness finally gets a shot at the brass ring with her debut Alligator release. Six increasingly accomplished albums provided the studio experience in crafting her music for maximum dynamics, and the results show on this rollicking set of blues and R&B that kicks off with the Little Milton penned title track. As usual Magness finds terrific, generally obscure material, digging deep to unearth gems such as Teresa James' "I Want a Love" and even Annie Lennox's "Bitter Pill," an unusual choice on the surface but one that perfectly captures Magness' tougher edge. With more time and a larger budget, these songs are fleshed out with horns, organ, and background vocals. While that makes for a bigger production and a more immediate sound, Magness' magnificent voice occasionally gets lost in the mix. That's the case on upbeat tracks such as her version of an Ike Turner rarity "Get It, Get It," which features three guitars and brass. Ditto for a seemingly rushed version of Marvin Gaye's "Don't Do It" that might have sounded like a good idea on paper, but never catches fire because her vocals fight for attention in a somewhat cluttered mix. That's about the only downside for an album that delivers what anyone who has seen Magness live will love. She rips into ballads such as Gary Nicholson's Memphis-styled "Fool Me Again" with tenacity, and the stripped down arrangement allows her to bring a gritty emotional edge that Delbert McClinton, who could be considered the male counterpart to Magness, creates so effectively. Husband/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Jeff Turmes' material, including "Sometimes You Got to Gamble," a ballad sung against his gospel piano and sparse bass, is moving and riveting. Another Turmes original "You Sound Pretty Good" brings a peppy New Orleans-styled horn arrangement and banjo to one of this disc's highlights. Bill Withers' "I Don't Want You on My Mind" gets down to its swampy soul in a cool, crawling arrangement featuring a slicing Turmes guitar solo. Earl Thomas' "I Won't Be Around" frames Magness' voice in a stark, near musical silence that allows her to tear into its emotional center. Although she's no newcomer, many might be exposed to Janiva Magness through this album due to Alligator's marketing and distribution muscle. It's a great place to start enjoying a veteran performer who burns through these songs like she's got everything to prove.
AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz