A lot has happened to blues singer Janiva Magness since 2014’s Original was released. A musical based on Magness’ life was produced, her relaunched label, Fathead, has been gaining some traction, and perhaps most importantly, she fell in love and got married to a fellow bluesman. All of this good news had an astronomical impact on Magness, who grew up in foster care following her parent’s suicides and was set to have a child of her own at 17 years old (which she eventually gave away). With her abnormally rough upbringing, it’s easy to see why Magness had turned to blues so many years ago. After her recent marriage and spree of success, though, the now 59-year-old feels like her life’s shooting upwards for once. Ready to try something new (in both life and music), Magness positions her new album, Love Wins Again, as her “celebration of happy”, a lone piece of life affirming music following a career of professing hardship.
While Magness might be writing happier songs than she ever has, she’s certainly not forfeiting her blues roots in the process. Had the lyrics of “Real Slow” been darker to match the melody, it could have been one of the fierce tracks of the year. However, Magness effectively incorporates her optimism through the bright organ chords and her coquettish lyrics and inflection, creating an excellent contrast. The title track, on the other hand, doesn’t sound angry in the slightest; rather, it moves as closely into pop territories as any song on the album (although its bluesy call and response pattern, coupled with its melodic organ and sax assistance, allows it to sound right at home in Magness’ court). It’s the perfect intro to lure you into Magness’ infectiously catchy tunes.
Not every song succeeds equally, though. Sadly, “Moth to a Flame” seems like it could have been relegated to an interlude, as the change in tone that it provides is nice at first, yet it seems to drag on after a while. Alternately, a few songs excel musically but fall a bit flat lyrically. Now, the album isn’t parading as some extremely thought-provoking entity; instead, it favors upfront lyrics to really hit an idea or a feeling hard. It’s usually pretty effective, but sometimes this means resorting to cheesy or cliché depictions of a feeling. “When You Hold Me”, for example, is an ode devoted entirely to the feeling of being held by a loved one. Luckily, if lyrical ideas start becoming overworked, Magness can usually renew them with meaning through her soulful voice. Likewise, Magness’ raw and powerful instrument can inspire many unwritten emotions in her music.
Overall, Love Wins Again is a success for Magness in many ways. The infectious melodies on the album make it nearly impossible to resist singing along, although we all might be a little bit wary in attempting to belt alongside her seasoned chops. That said, her biggest achievement here might be her ability to convey such clear messages to the listener. Take the beautiful album closer, “Who Will Come For Me”, as proof. With lyrics like “There it goes running away again” and “Who will come for me / When all my youth is spent”, the song could easily have been a lament on hopelessness and despair. Within the context of the rest of the album, though, and paired with Magness’ magnetic voice (which seems prepared to stomp any hardship out), the message we receive is one of belonging, love, and ultimately, hope. It’s a good color on Magness, and if everything goes as well as we’re meant to believe, we’ll hopefully get to see it again.