Janiva Magness – The Devil Is An Angel Too

January 01, 1970

(Alligator)

 

www.alligator.com

 

On this her ninth album, Janiva Magness shows that she is
not only one of the greatest female blues vocalist in America today but one of our
greatest female vocalist period. On The
Devil Is An Angel Too
Magness infuses her powerful voice with an intensity
that transcends genres as she covers songs made famous by an array of artists
including Nina Simone, Graham Parker, Joe Tex, and Nick Lowe.

 

But despite her ability to cover everything from New Wave to
Gospel to R&B, Magness is a blues artist deep in her soul. The intensity
she brings to her music comes from her life experience. This is not a woman
imitating the blues from a safe distance away. Magness has lived them. Born in Detroit, she lost both her
parents to suicide when she was just 16 and lived often on the streets while
bouncing from one foster home to another. At 17 she became pregnant and gave up
her baby daughter for adoption. “All of us have a light and dark side,” she
says. “Human beings are capable of the most incredible acts of kindness and
absolute wretchedness. This record explores both sides.”

 

That theme is clear on the first track, “The Devil Is An
Angel” written by country songwriter, Julie Miller. Over an ominous percussion,
Magness sings, “You look just like an angel. You sound so bright and true. You
seem so sweet coming down my street. But the devil is an angel too…”  The second cut, “I’m Gonna Tear Your
Playhouse Down,” was first made famous by Graham Parker.  Magness captures the anger of the lyrics
perfectly. In his heyday, Parker was an R&B-leaning New Wave artist capable
of incredible soul along with angst. Magness’ cover has a distinctly Memphis soul sound.

 

But this is not a dark or bitter CD. It is also about the
possibility of redemption and hope in life, which is also part of the blues.  “Weeds Like Us” is a Delta blues ballad
written by Magness’s husband and guitarist, Jeff Turmes. Magness sings,
“Everyday is an act of will and weeds like us are hard to kill.” On the R&B
song made famous by Percy Sledge, “Walkin’ in the Sun” she sings, “I’ve been walkin’
in the dark long enough to know when I’ve finally seen the light.”

 

But the powerhouse performance on the CD comes on the cover
of a Bricusse/Newley standard made famous by Nina Simone: “I’m Feelin’ Good.”
The song start with Magness singing a cappella: “Birds flying high, you know
how I feel. Sun up in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze drifting on by, you
know how I feel. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me…And I’m feeling good.” With
her smoldering intensity, Magness transforms this standard in an uplifting affirmation
of life and a victory over the pain.

 

And that is what the blues are about in the final analysis.
It is about surviving the pain and bad stuff with the hope of a better day
still to come. The blues acknowledges the darkness while never surrendering to
it.  The
Devil Is An Angel Too
shows that Janiva Magness is getting stronger as an
artist with each album. She is a great, versatile singer with the soul of a
true blues woman. She is the only woman besides the late great Koko Taylor to
be named B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year by the Blues Music Awards. And that
tells you all you need to know. This is a genuine CD which will linger with you
long after the final note.

 

Standout Tracks: “I’m
Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” “I’m Feelin’ Good” “Weeds Like Us” “Turn Your
Heart In My Direction” TOM
CALLAHAN 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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