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The Devil Is An Angel Too

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Album Review

It would have been natural for soul/roots vocalist Magness to capitalize on the success of her 2008 Alligator debut by shifting toward a more commercial middle ground for the follow-up two years later. While she hasn't changed direction drastically, it's encouraging that Magness finds under-the-radar material to wrap her husky voice around. Those somewhat unlikely sources for torchy songs include gems from Nick Lowe and Julie Miller. The latter provides the title track, setting the album's philosophical tone by examining both the angelic and demonic sides of human nature. That theme weaves through the disc on stirring, often rousing covers of tunes made famous, or at least introduced to Magness, by Graham Parker ("I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," perhaps better-known to R&B fans through Ann Peebles' classic performance), Percy Sledge ("Walkin' in the Sun"), Marvin Gaye ("End of Our Road"), and Joe Tex (the often covered but rarely impressive "I Want to Do Everything for You"). She also revisits the Nina Simone well. Simone is a logical source since the singer's eclectic song choices seem to be an inspiration for Magness' own approach. Here she dusts off and breathes new life into the Bricusse/Newley standard "Feeling Good" (incorrectly listed as "I'm Feelin' Good"). The disc's wide stylistic range flows together effortlessly with Magness' broad, sultry, soulful vocals, unique arrangements, and a band that tugs at the heart of these songs, delivering taut yet spacious performances. Many of the players return from her last outing with standout work from guitarist/co-producer Dave Darling. His swampy touch meshes with drummer Stephen Hodges' patented, rubbery thumping. The combination works flawlessly with the Memphis groove of "Playhouse," where Magness' powerful pipes bite into the song like a hungry wolf. She's just as effective on "Weeds Like Us," an ominous, deep Delta blues ballad written by husband/bassist/guitarist Jeff Turmes, who also contributes the closing, standard-styled "Turn Your Heart in My Direction." Magness connected with a definitive version of Gary Nicholson's "You Were Never Mine" a few albums ago, and finds another Nicholson gem in the aching gospel of "Save Me." These dozen songs barely break the 40-minute mark, allowing the singer to hit her targets and move on. Magness nails every performance, seamlessly shifting from dark to light. It's that dichotomy that brings the tension and release, edging her a little further from the typical R&B territory that is only a starting point for her dynamic talent.

Customer Reviews

Janiva does it again...

Janiva Magness is not as well-known (even amongst blues fans) as she should be - although I guess that could be said of quite a few blues artists. But she really is a hidden treasure. Firstly let me say that I'm a huge blues nut and that female vocalists have never quite done it for me (apart from obvious exceptions like Etta James and such). However after stumbling across Janiva Magness, I have been persuaded that there really are great, emotive female blues vocalists out there.

This album, is a prime example of Janiva; contemporary in the sense that it is not just an album of emotionless covered blues standards, and old-schoool in the sense that it is still very blues/r&b/soul orientated in terms of tasty musicianship and plenty of feeling. Oh, and did I mention that Janiva's voice is simply superb - gritty and strong when needed and pleasurably tender when needing to evoke real feeling, a real treat.

The musicians, as in her other albums, seem to be hand-picked for each song, and are a stellar crowd (inc. talented husband Jeff Turmes, who amongst others has previously worked with one James Harman!)

Need I say more? Go on - treat your ears!!


Born: Detroit, MI

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Blues and soul singer Janiva Magness was no stranger to trouble and hard times growing up, and at her best, she pours that lifetime of emotion into her passionate phrasing and vocal delivery. Born in Detroit, Magness grew up with her father's blues and country record collection, as well as the city's wonderfully Motown pop-soul sound, all of which shaped her style and approach as a musician. She lost both of her parents to suicide while in her early teens, and she ended up living on the streets,...
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The Devil Is An Angel Too, Janiva Magness
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