Shortly after experiencing a live performance by Los Angeles-based Janiva Magness at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, Iowa, I did a review of her CD, Blues Ain't Pretty. When I talked with Janiva shortly after hearing Blues Ain't Pretty for the first time, I told her that I enjoyed the CD, but that it did not capture the emotion or electricity of her live performance. Soon after, I traded a couple of e-mails with Janiva, resulting in her sending me a copy of her latest CD, Use What You Got. After listening to the new CD a couple of times, I am happy to say that as good as Blues Ain't Pretty was, Use What You Got is even better.
Use What You Got opens with a nice upbeat version of Memphis Slim's classic, "I'm Lost Without You," followed by the sultry sound of the title track, "Use What You Got." The feeling that Janiva puts into the vocals builds a great image of her vamping on stage, using what she's got to lure the listener into her musical web. The song also includes a nice guitar solo by Zach Zunis.
The CD continues with "I'm Not Ashamed," a medium tempo torcher with a Memphis horn-based blues sound, including blasting saxes by Jeff Turmes and David Woodford. Zach Zunis chips in again with another nice guitar solo. The next song, "Find A Fool," is a great version of a Denise LaSalle penned tune that Janiva does great justice to with her expressive vocals.
The only original number on Use What You Got is "How Much Longer (Is That Train Gonna Blow), written by Janiva's long time musical collaborator, Jeff Turmes. This is a number with more of stripped-down sound dominated by Janiva's vocals and Andy Kaulkin's piano. On Billie Holiday's "Stormy Blues," Janiva gets the torch burning brightly, creating visions of a lamenting singer in a smoke-filled room, mourning the loss of a lover. The song includes a fine moaning sax solo by David Woodford. Woodford also puts together a nice solo on the following number, "You Better Love Me."
Following a nice rendition of "All Night Worker" written by Rufus Thomas, Magness performs an excellent version of Magic Sam's, "That's Why I'm Cryin'". The song includes some nice West Side style guitar from Zach Zunis to go with Janiva's plaintive vocals, making it one of my favorites on Use What You Got. The feeling of the CD changes a bit on "Who's Gonna Help A Brother Get Further," a up tempo song with a Louisiana feel reminiscent of material performed by people like Marcia Ball. In another change of pace, Janiva gets into the songbook of classic country performer Charlie Rich for "Who Will The Next Fool Be," another slow, lamenting number about lost, foolish love.
Use What You Got finishes off with Ike Turner's, "Matchbox," a well done cover with a feminine twist and the closing number "Don't Start Crying Now," that finishes the CD with a flourish, featuring excellent vocals from Janiva and more nice guitar work by Zach Zunis.
Use What You Got, the latest release by blues diva, Janiva Magness is an excellent CD and offers a good introduction to the emotional energy created by this fine performer. To find out more about Janiva and her recordings, visit her website at www.janivamagness.com or Blues Leaf Recordings at www.bluesleaf.com.
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