Janiva Magness – Stronger For It

January 01, 1970

(Alligator)

 

www.alligator.com

 

Janiva Magness just keeps getting better. And that is great
news for blues fans. Stronger For It is
the 10th album of her 35 year career and third on Alligator. It builds
on the strength of The Devil Is An Angel
Too
from 2010. Magness has always
been known as an intense and passionate vocalist and interpreter of other
people’s songs. But here she writes her own material and the result is that Stronger For It is one of the most
powerful blues albums of recent memory. It is the album of 2012.

 

Magness is a real blues artist the way Bessie Smith or
Robert Johnson or Koko Taylor were blues artists. And that means she does not
just sing the blues, she lived the blues and used the music as a way to find
redemption and survival. The blues
came from her own life: losing both her parents to suicide when she was a
teenager and living on the streets. Eventually she had and then had to give up
a child, ended up in the foster care system. Today, she is a national spokesperson
for Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month Campaign and an ambassador
for the Foster Care Alumni of America. Her own life story would have taken down
a lot of folks. But Magness survived. She is a blues woman.

 

Stronger for It shows
the pure terrifying power of the blues. The blues is human emotion stripped
bare.  The first cut – “There It Is” – might
just be the blues rock song of the year, a hard driving revenge song with Magness’s
voice approaching force of nature levels of anger. Three of the first four
songs are written by her, with the fourth being a Tom Waits composition. But on
the fifth track, “I’m Alive” penned by Shelby Lynne Moorer, Magness sings in
sheer pain: “Oh, if I don’t get you back I’ll fall upon the railroad track and
let the steel wheels cut right through my bones.”

 

Ouch! But, as all the great bluesmen and women knew, the
blues is ultimately about not falling on those railroad tracks or giving into
that “Trouble in Mind.” The blues is also about using music to fight through
the pain, confront the demons and then find redemption.
And the hope of the blues comes through gospel music. At the end of Stronger For It the CD takes a gospel
turn. Magness’s voice soars on William Maddox’s and Paul Thorn’s “Things Left
Undone.” She sings, “When your life is over and you’re nearing the end and the
River Jordan is around the bend. When a stranger came knocking, did you let him
in? Was there food on your table for that down and out friend? Did you hide in
the shadows or did you walk in the sun? Do you regret the things left undone?”  The album ends on an upbeat country swing
song: Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Woop and Holler.”

 

This is powerful stuff. Magness dedicates the CD “to all of us
still standing” which is only appropriate. And by confronting her pain head on and
turning it into the beauty and hope of the blues, Magness shows us all that no
matter what life throws at us, we can not only survive it but become stronger
for it. This is an album not just to enjoy but an album that, like all great
art, forces you to come back to it again and again and search for the eternal
verities of the blues. There is not a weak cut here. Album of the year.

 

 

DOWNLOAD: “There
It Is” “I’m Alive” “Ragged Company” “Things Left Undone” TOM CALLAHAN 

 

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