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Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Janiva Magness pushes roots, rock, soul envelope with new album 'Original,' out June 24.
DYNAMIC SINGER-SONGWRITER JANIVA
THE ROOTS, ROCK AND SOUL ENVELOPE WITH DARING NEW ALBUM ORIGINAL
Award-winning performer’s eleventh release, out
June 24, brings her songwriting skills and stunning range to the fore, with
nominated producer Dave Darling.
Calif. — Janiva Magness’
new album Original stretches the artistic boundaries of
roots, rock and soul music. Its 11 songs seamlessly weave all three genres into
a highly original approach defined by nakedly honest storytelling and the
live-wire emotionalism of Magness’ two-and-a-half octave range, buoyed by
arrangements that effortlessly blend traditional sounds with edgy
Me Breathe” opens Original with the amplified chunk of an electric guitar
and the chime of a glockenspiel followed by the confessional lines, “Nobody’s
perfect/Nobody knows that more than me,” setting a tone of frank self-assessment
that resonates throughout the entire set, from the Stax-influenced celebration
of dignity “Mountain” to the wanton “I Need A Man” to the concluding “Standing,”
which confronts insecurity with true survivor’s resolve.
had much to overcome in making this adventurous album. Since 2010 she’s endured
the dissolution of a 17-year marriage, the deaths of eight friends and relatives
including her foster mother, and an operation for a serious neck injury that
could have ended her accolade-filled career. But Original finds the Los
Angeles-based artist undefeated — turning in her finest recorded vocal
performances, co-writing a majority of tracks for the first time and testing
herself by taking risks along with her production foil Dave Darling, whose
credits include Glen Campbell, Brian Setzer, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx and Stray
Cats, and whose instincts compelled Magness to tap her deepest creative powers
and led the songs to sonically unpredictable places.
always want to push myself,” she explains, “but this album demanded a high level
of vulnerability to tell the absolute truth in every song, holding nothing back.
It was frightening, at times, to be so raw in public. Dave drove me and even
tricked me when he needed to. This is also an album that couldn’t be made with
another record company, because we needed to be able to go wherever we wanted
musically to tell its stories.”
Magness parted ways with Alligator Records after a six-year period that included
2012’s Stronger For It, 2010’s The Devil Is An Angel Too and
2008’s What Love Will Do, all produced by Darling. During her tenure on
the internationally respected blues and roots imprint Magness also won her
fourth Blues Music Award for “Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year” plus
the “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” and “Song of the Year” (for “I Won’t
Cry,” co-written with Darling) awards, even as she became a fixture of the
Americana music scene alongside such similar tough ’n’ edgy roots-based artists
as Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
hard, indeed, to pigeonhole Magness, who kick starts Original’s
transcendent creative centerpiece “When You Were My King” with her voice alone —
albeit bathed in a psychedelic pool of reverb, then accompanied by a jingling
moth larva shaker and a snare drum that sounds snatched from a contemporary
R&B hit, which in turn relents to the soulful call of Darling’s reverb
soaked blues guitar. The song goes on to build an organic electric and acoustic
framework around Magness’ warm-blooded, hook-heavy vocal melody, ultimately
conjuring the regret and lost magic of a disintegrated relationship with
that tune might not have happened if Darling hadn’t lured her to his studio to
“work on a vocal part.” When she arrived the hit Australian songwriting team of
Lauren Bliss and Andrew Lowden were lying in wait. “If Dave had said, ‘I have
these people here that I want you to write with,’ I would have made an excuse
and begged off,” she relates. Instead, they co-wrote “When You Were My King” and
“Standing,” two of the album’s most intensely emotional and superbly crafted
tunes. Magness’ friend Dan Navarro of the singer-songwriter team Lowen &
Navarro also pitched in, singing on the duet “With Love” and contributing
background vocals to “Standing” and “Let Me Breathe.”
with producer Dave Darling at Studio City Sound
co-wrote seven of Original’s numbers, overcoming a longstanding phobia.
“I’ve been afraid of writing songs for most of my career,” she confides. “I was
worried I wouldn’t be good at it, or that I would be really good at it. I
was married to a great songwriter, and I didn’t want songwriting to be an issue
in any way between us.”
after she and Jeff Turmes split in 2010, Magness began writing under Darling’s
encouragement. They co-penned three tunes for Stronger For It. And this
time it’s her lyrics and performances that breathe life into Original’s
gripping emotional arc —a musical journey through loss and triumphant recovery
that reflects her own experiences.
always wanted life to be simpler than it is,” she offers. “When I was a young
girl, and then a young woman, I really yearned for that. Now I’m a full-grown
woman and I understand that life is never black and white. Losing loved ones,
losing attachments and relationships, and grieving over it all are things we
have to live with. If we can get through that with our souls intact, we learn
how to become stronger and to move on with hope and dignity toward whatever
Magness, who is writing a memoir, such challenges arrived early. Her teenage
years were turbulent after both of her parents took their own lives. She was
placed in a series of 12 foster homes and at age 17 gave birth to a daughter who
she gave up for adoption. Magness’ despair was so deep that she tried to end her
life. But ultimately, inspired by the encouragement of her final foster mother
and a galvanizing performance by the legendary bluesman Otis Rush, she
eventually found stability and salvation in music.
the release of her debut album More Than Live in 1992, Magness has
relentlessly pursued her craft to become one of the most beloved figures in the
blues and roots world, reaching a larger and more diverse audience with each
succeeding album and developing a reputation as a live entertainer that’s made
her a staple of summer festivals. Her collaborations with Darling, in
particular, have greatly expanded her fan base as well as her stylistic command.
And she has lent her singular voice to the cause of foster care activism,
becoming a spokesperson for Casey Family Programs’ National Foster Care Month
and an Ambassador for Foster Care Alumni of America.
fact that Magness’ voice was jeopardized in December 2012 by surgery that left
her unable to speak for several weeks makes her performances
on Original all the more impressive. In tunes like the powerful “Twice As
Strong” and “Badass,” the epic “When You Were My King” and the intimate
“Standing” she displays the entire scope of her vocal range — from confidential
whisper to soaring declamation — on one of her own albums for the first
thanks L.A. vocal coach and cantor Nate Lamm for teaching her how to sing in a
way that provides a more sweeping command of her instrument. “I’ve pushed myself
hard on vocal sessions for other people” — including Glen Campbell and R.L.
Burnside — “but this is the first time I’ve been able to tap every part of my
own voice for my own songs,” she attests. “They required everything I had to
tell their stories and to express everything that I was feeling about theses
I’m really looking forward to getting out and performing these songs live,” the
artist continues. “When you’re on stage in front of an audience that’s singing
along to your own songs, there’s no better feeling — and no place I’d rather be
— in the world.”