Now living in Los Angeles, California, Detroit-born singer Janiva Magness has worked very hard over the past several years to build her musical career and fan base across the country. Although still more familiar on the West Coast, Janiva is starting to expand her influence to the east, performing at a variety of venues and festivals across the country. I first experienced the music and the charismatic, sexy personality of Janiva Magness at the 2003 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa earlier this month. As a direct result of the high energy of her performance and the exceptional live show that I witnessed at the Festival, I immediately went out and bought Janiva's CD, Blues Ain't Pretty, with a built-in expectation that the recording would, at some level, reflect Janiva's talent as a live performer.
At first blush, Blues Ain't Pretty offers great promise for the listener. Along with her long time musical partner Jeff Turmes on bass guitar, as well as saxophone and rhythm guitar on several cuts, Janiva is backed by an excellent group of musicians, including David Kida (drums), "Brother Red" Young (keyboards), Steve March (baritone/tenor sax), Kirk "Eli" Fletcher (guitar) and a special guest appearance by Kid Ramos who plays guitar on three songs, "Nobody Loves you Like Me," "the More I Keep On Losin'" and "St. Gabriel." Among the fourteen songs on the CD, three are Jeff Turmes originals and the rest covers of songs by the likes of Marcia Ball, Ray Charles and James Brown among others.
The CD opens with the title track, "Blues Ain't Pretty," a Jeff Turmes original that establishes the low down feel of the recording, referring to the dark side of the blues feeling. This is a medium tempo song with a "swing & sway feel" that includes a nice piano solo by "Brother Red" Young and guitar by "Eli" Fletcher. The following song, "Nobody Loves You Like Me," brings on guest guitarist Kid Ramos who plugs in some of his signature guitar sounds into this sultry number powerfully presented by Janiva. Janiva continues her sultry, sexy ways on "It's Your Voodoo Working," describing the powerless feeling women sometimes get around that particular man. In addition to fulfilling his duties on bass guitar, Jeff Turmes provides the baritone sax solo that breaks up the Magness vocals.
On "The More I Keep Losin'" it is easy to recognize that Kid Ramos makes a return to add his signature guitar licks to this Jeff Turmes original. In the song, Janiva laments lost love and how when it happens too often, one just doesn't care anymore. After another sexy, sweet tune entitled "I Don't Know," the pace picks up a little with the last of the Jeff Turmes originals, "Makin' Money," including another nice guitar solo by "Eli" Fletcher and Janiva's lament about the need to make money the problems with not having any.
Blues Ain't Pretty reaches the halfway point with a powerful version of Marcia Ball's "St. Gabriel." The song starts with a strong guitar opening from Kid Ramos and some of the best vocals by Magness on the CD, who really exudes the emotion of the song, representing one of the highlights on Blues Ain't Pretty. This was clearly my favorite song on the CD, including one of Kid Ramos' most impassioned guitar solos to compliment Janiva's fine vocals.
The second half of Blues Ain't Pretty seems to be a little more oriented to a West Coast swing feel, with "Act Right," Ray Charles and Percy Mayfield's more up tempo tune, "Tell Me How Do You Feel" including more of a lead role in the music by "Brother Red" Young on the Hammond B-3 and the understated smoothness of "Help Me To Find My Love." Following "Help Me To Find My Love" is another of my favorites on the recording, "I'm Gonna Play The Honky Tonks," that includes hard edged vocals by Magness and some backing swing guitar by "Eli" Fletcher to drive the song forward. The song also includes a great guitar break by Fletcher that clearly demonstrates that his skills as a guitarist had hold up to anyone's scrutiny.
The CD cruises toward the home stretch with Janiva's pleading vocals on "Tell Me What I Did Wrong," begging the question to the listener as if they were a jaded lover. The song includes a nice guitar solo by Fletcher, combined with a well done sax break by Steve Marsh. This is followed by "Every Dog Has His Day," a song that is dominated by Janiva's vocals backed sparsely with guitar, drums and no noticeable bass guitar. Guitarist "Eli" Fletcher and drummer David Kida control the tempo and tone of the song, with the emotional drive (and barking dog noises) provided by Janiva.
Blues Ain't Pretty concludes with the honky tonk piano backed "Heartbreaker," another story of lost love in honky tonk lament. "Brother Red" Young sets the tone with his hammering piano as Janiva carries it home with her fine vocals. As the songs cruises toward its end, "Eli" Fletcher gets in his last two cents worth with another fine guitar solo, taking the band out in style.
Blues Ain't Pretty by Janiva Magness is a fine follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut on Blues Leaf Records, My Bad Luck Soul. Although studio recordings rarely compare with a high quality live show (such as the Janiva Magness Band can put on), Blues Ain't Pretty will certainly alert listeners to this talented, passionate singer. To find out more about Janiva Magness, or to pick up any of her recordings, visit her website at www.janivamagness.com.
Your purchase through this Amazon.com link helps to support this website.
Simply click on the image left to order this CD NOW!
"This review is copyright © 2003 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without permission."
Copyright reuse notice: If you would like to reprint or use this review please include the above copyright notice, contained within the quotation marks, PLUS this statement: "Used with permission." Then send an email to Ray at: firstname.lastname@example.org indicating how you are using the review or the website page address it will be appearing on. Thanks!
You can help support this blues website by making a contribution (click on the banner below for details).
Or mail a donation to: Ray Stiles % Blues On Stage, PO Box 582983, Mpls, MN 55458. Thanks!
Web Design SPECIAL, get your own website for just $50.
Web Hosting & Design:
Web Hosting & Design.
Most affordable web hosting and design services available.
Find out how you can host your current site at Blues On Stage, or how I can help you design your own website!
If you would like your CD reviewed, please send TWO (2) copies, along with promotional material to:
Blues On Stage
PO Box 582983
Minneapolis, MN 55458-2983
E-mail Ray Stiles @ email@example.com with any questions.