Janiva Magness ‘Love Wins Again’ Album Review

Janiva Magness is an artist who possesses a powerfully intense voice that grabs a hold and then never again releases you. Over the course of her recording career she has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, including numerous awards, in addition to substantial public support which spreads with each new endeavor she undertakes.  Her wonderful new release is album number twelve of her brilliant career and is entitled Love Wins Again on Blue Élan Records.

At some point in their careers, a lot of musicians reach the point where they want to spread their artistic wings and branch out and try new things. Famous for her gifted interpretations of others material, Magness has taken the slightly different path of writing and co-writing much of her own material, which began in earnest with 2014’s Original. She has co-written five of the songs on Love Wins Again, two of those with producer/songwriter/musician Dave Darling which are, in my opinion, the crème de la crème of the record. It is her fifth straight album collaboration with the noted producer Dave Darling resulting in a cohesive mutual harmony defining what succeeds to the fullest measure in showcasing Magness’s impressive artistic gifts. The new path also includes more adult contemporary and Americana slanted music; but still remains firmly rooted in her blues origins blended with R&B, gospel and soul.

In an eloquent liner notes essay Magness has expressed in great detail that she has finally attained a phase of her life where true love and happiness have manifested feelings that to her were never before brought clearly to light. These feelings of great joy lend a hand to form a prevalent thematic base for the songs included on Love Wins Again; and prove a winning formula.

“Music is love and it speaks, as it always has. If you listen it won’t be difficult to hear love, happiness, intimacy, truth, rebellion, hope, acceptance and finally the comfort of understanding.” ~ Janiva Magness

The Magness/Darling title composition starts the ball rolling robustly with perhaps one of the finest songs she has ever recorded. And yes, I am well aware that the Magness/Darling team had a “Song of the Year Award” previously with “I Won’t Cry” during her accomplished three-release run on Alligator Records. “Love Wins Again” is an upbeat song that has “hit” written all over it in capital letters. The chorus will have your head boppin’ and your tail shakin’ as Janiva proudly proclaims on three occasions the elation-packed catchy chorus: “Ain’t no wrong way about it/Honey it’s plain to see/We never need to doubt it/Love wins again! Sorrow’s all the way over/Baby I guarantee/Walking in four leaf clover/Love wins again!” Darling’s arrangements vary on the release from sparse to involved, but always put Magness’s titillating vocals up front to shine.  The title track is one of his fuller arrangements with drums, bass, and guitar all assisting Janiva’s spirited vocal.

“Real Slow” is a smothered-in-funk Darling/Devlin composition that argues the benefits of taking your time. The clever use of double-entendre lyrics are aided by Magnus’s come-hither vocal urgings as the pace is slow, but the groove created by organ and guitar is still deep.  When she sings “we’re lost in the moment” it becomes impossible not to be enticed under her love spell.

A gospel feel encompasses “When You Hold Me,” another Darling/Devlin song, thanks in part to the church choir supporting vocals. These backing vocals add a lot to the album at transitory intervals, and run the entire genre gamut. “When You Hold Me” is a love song that showcases Janiva’s alluring vocals masterfully.  She has a singing voice that is more than sweet enough for ballads while still possessing a salty quality sufficient to magnificently sing the blues. A bit of horns, organ, and understated guitars help to shine the spotlight squarely on Magness. 

“Say You Will,” co-authored by Darling and Gary Pinto follows in a somewhat similar fashion with Janiva testifying in fine Southern Soul/Blues tradition with gospel nuances. Echoes of vintage Al Green are present as the gleaming Magness sings the lyrics as she tells the story.    

“The voice is something that allows us to communicate past the limitations of the left brain.  It’s the primary instrument, the first instrument….and more than that too. The voice has the power to link all the parts of ourselves—-the brain, the heart, and even the spirit and the soul. That’s why the ability to sing is a gift, and I love nothing more than sharing it.” ~ Janiva Magness

Another mighty fine ballad entitled “Doorway” has a sparse instrumental arrangement and effectively substantiates that Janiva is a convincing balladeer. A prominent bass line coupled with incisive B-3 organ and crisp guitar follow alongside Janiva’s rich vocal on the blues-drenched “Moth To A Flame” to create a soulfulness that is endearing to say the least. 

The other fantastic Magness/Darling co-authored tune entitled “Your House Is Burnin’” ratchets up the intensity to habanero chili pepper hotness.  It begins with some Maceo Parker reminiscent saxophone licks from Alfredo Ballesteros and Janiva wails with a fervent jubilant urgency throughout the track. When she demands: “Get Up,” it sends chills down the spine. Anyone not already familiar with the impassioned artistry of Janiva Magness would be well served to take a listen to this song. The thumbing bass guitar of Gary Davenport paired with the driving drums from Matt Laug aid to set the tune fully ablaze. 

“Just Another Lesson” and “Rain Down” form a potent one-two punch of down home Americana luxuriated in a lust dream-like ethereal atmosphere that calls to mind some of the finest work from Shelby Lynne or Sade. “Rain Down” is a first-rate composition co-written by Magness, Darling, Benedict, and Bliss that conveys a person’s innate ability to overcome the painful misfortunes and hurdles that life puts in our path with faith.      

The John Fogerty/Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Long As I Can See The Light,” which appeared on their fifth album (Cosmo’s Factory) is treated to a warmhearted rendition by Janiva.  As Bruce Springsteen once commented about CCR: “They weren’t the hippest band in the world …… just the best.” CCR did produce an unbelievable number of high quality tunes in a short period and “Long As I Can See The Light” is one of their finest. Joe Cocker and Shemekia Copeland are two fine expressive singers who have expertly covered the song; but Janiva somehow gets even more heart-felt emotion into her version.  It is a song with simple lyrics that resonate with passion when performed with the reverence Janiva lays down.

“That is one of my favorite songs of all time. I’m so happy we got to do it.  It’s an ode to a moment when we embrace our mortality without fear.”  ~ Janis Magness

Like her near-contemporaries, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, and Rory Block, Magness ranks as an important modern blueswoman who has brought tremendous cross-over appeal to the genre. Janiva Magness’s vocal delivery is warmly conversational, often sounding as if she’s singing directly to the listener.  This special intimate quality is prevalent throughout Love Wins Again making her a truly unique vocalist with very few peers.  Love Wins Again stands rock-solid to repeated plays — it is earnest music from her heart and soul, and if anything only gets better and better over time.

“The album’s title is a mantra to the concept of love as a physical, psychic and spiritual force that has the strength to conquer darkness, sorrow, and personal demons.  I hope it means as much to you as it does to me!” ~ Janiva Magness