It's no secret by now that Janiva Magness is one of the top soul-blues singers in the land -- her live shows are incredible exercises in musical passion personified; her CDs elegant testimony to vocal strengths that cut across genres and through hearts.
From the funky, soulful, Stax-like opening bars of her original "There It Is" on her latest CD, ""Stronger For It" (Alligator Records), you can tell that it's also no secret that she just keeps getting better.
The next track, "I Won't Cry," is another original (she's got a good thing going here). It shifts in tone to mine a deeper, darker vein of heartbreak with the stark refrain: "I get cut and I might bleed, but I won't cry ... the bigger the love, the blacker the bruise ..."
"Whistling in the Dark" is her other original (all three written with producer/guitarist Dave Darling), and it's another wrenchingly soulful exercise in the pain of lost love. These three songs feel like the emotional core of the album, each with strong, sensual guitar from Darling behind an exceptional set of vocals.
The rest of the CD ain't exactly chopped liver, made up of strong song choices, filled with vocals that range from throaty longing to shouts of joy. Tom Waits' "Make It Rain" is an excellent choice, as Magness turns Waits' introspection into a soulful statement.
An intriguing choice from an intriguing source is "You Got What You Wanted," ripped from Ike Turner's songbook and delivered ahead of a rollicking B3 with a funky beat and tough vocals.
If you want torch, and you want it with sensuous vocals that induce possibly felonious slow-dancing delights, slip inside Janiva's soul on "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" from Gladys Knight.
Want some country-filled blues? Or blues-filled country? Try the guitar licks and and gritty vocals on Buddy and Julie Miller's "Dirty Water" ("I ain't gonna drink your dirty water no more...").
The whole thing wraps up with the joyful noise and promise of the the rousing gospel "Whoop and Holler" by Ray Wylie Hubbard.
A nod to the band is necessary, too. Every time I've seen Janiva perform, her band has never failed to deliver the sound she needs. That group has expanded for this production, but it's no less special, and creates the precise backing for each mood.
I've left out a few tracks here, but you'll need something to look forward to. This CD is a great opportunity to hear a special talent at the peak of her powers. If you've seen her perform, you know what I mean. If you haven't, get this excellent album and wait for the next time she comes to your town.
Here's a video of the powerful "I Won't Cry" -