Janiva Magness’ new album Love Wins Again is yet another evolutionary step for the soulful, elegant, award-winning singer-songwriter. It’s 11 core songs and two bonus tracks are built on a sonically sophisticated architecture that’s in full service of Magness’ remarkably flexible and generous voice—which can flow smoothly as champagne or churn up gravel on command. The album’s title is a mantra that resonates throughout: the concept of love as a physical, psychic and spiritual force that has the strength to conquer negativity, sadness and personal demons.
“Love is a bigger power than hate and darkness,” Magness explains. “It’s easy to forget that when we’re struggling or when the world often seems frightening and out of control. But love can transcend barriers between people and cultures, and bring us closer in ways we might not have imagined. Love can also be frightening. It requires opening yourself up and taking risks, but in the end, love will always win.”
Love Wins Again marks Magness’ fifth collaboration with four-time Grammy nominated producer Dave Darling, whose credits include Glen Campbell, Brian Setzer, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, John Waite and Stray Cats, and whose instincts compel Magness to tap her deepest creative powers and lead her songs to unpredictable places. He has become her key songwriting foil and is the primary architect of the album’s gorgeous textural sound, which blends acoustic and electric instruments, flourishes of Latin percussion, horns and an enlightened approach to the studio to create perfect settings for her vocal prowess. And there’s more than range and craft to Magness’ voice. Her singing rings with sincerity. Since launching her career with 1992’s More Than Live, she has grown to become an accomplished storyteller and diviner of the heart, allowing songs like the title track, “Doorway” and “Say You Will” to reveal life’s potent truths.
“Love Wins Again” begins the album—which shatters genre barriers by enshrining elements of Americana, soul, rock, pop, country and blues—with a zesty, groove-propelled message that’s part manifesto and part testimonial. Love won again in Magness’ own life last year when she married English bluesman and singer-songwriter T.J. Norton. And her joyful melody soars above the song’s bed of percolating percussion and ringing R&B guitar.
Even when Magness is sending a warning flare in her state-of-the-world address “Your House Is Burnin’ Down,” she does it with grace. The tune’s “get up” call to action, sung with a handful of gravel in her voice, and its punching horns and high-energy beat invoke the urgency and drama of early James Brown.
“Doorway” and “Say You Will” both speak to the need to open one’s self to the power of love. “Doorway” spotlights Magness’ artful vocal melody, balancing melismatic sensitivity with soul-deep gospel phrasing over acoustic-electric bedrock. And “Say You Will” also taps gospel music for its call-and-response balance of male and female voices and its backing choir, but mates those qualities with a tight textural sound built from guitar, organ and a rocking rhythm section that makes the tune entirely contemporary.
For Magness, both numbers are tied to the album’s title theme. “‘Go where the love is’ is a phrase you hear a lot these days,” she offers. “But that’s not always easy. To survive life on life’s terms and to find the positivity behind its circumstances requires developing an understanding of the power of forgiveness. These song are about people who have learned to do that, including me.”
Following up her last album is no easy task. Original, from 2014, marked her debut as a songwriter and raised the creative bar for her collaborations with Darling. It entered the Billboard blues chart, where her releases routinely appear, at number five and topped the blues radio charts. Original also scored her seventh Blues Music Award, for Contemporary Blues Female Artist. In addition, the album received a Best Song nomination for “Let Me Breathe,” co-written with Darling. Altogether, Magness has been nominated for 25 Blues Music Awards and follows the legendary Koko Taylor as the second woman to win the highly coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award.
Original also revived her own label, Fathead Records, after a six-year stint with the internationally respected blues imprint Alligator Records. “It was really time to get out on my own again and take full control of my music,” Magness says. That change also reflected her rising status in the Americana music scene—where Original climbed into the Top 20 on the radio chart—alongside such similarly tough, soulful and literate artist as Mavis Staples, Sharon Jones, Bettye LaVette, the Alabama Shakes and St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Love Wins Again is being released on Fathead in cooperation with Blue Élan Records, a new artist-friendly label headed by Kirk Pasich, who first met Magness via their mutual interest in working on behalf of at-risk youth. Magness is an alumnus of the foster care system and is a spokesperson for the Casey Family Programs National Foster Care Month as well as an Ambassador for both the Foster Care Alumni of America and the Child Welfare League of America.
Blue Élan is the home of a diverse roster of artists that includes the legendary Eagles songwriter Jack Tempchin, Colin Devlin of Irish rock band the Devlins and singer-songwriter Cindy Alexander. “To have a label that truly takes the artist’s interests to heart is a blessing,” says Magness. “I really feel like I’ve found a home with Blue Élan.”
Magness explores her own turbulent youth, her rise to stardom and more in her just-finished, yet-untitled memoir—a book that took three years to write and has already inspired an in-the-works musical. Having lost both parents to suicide as a young girl, traversed through 12 foster homes and given up a child for adoption at age 17 left Magness in the deepest despair. But ultimately, inspired by the encouragement of her final foster mother and a galvanizing performance by the legendary bluesman Otis Rush, she found stability and salvation in music.
Today Janiva Magness is one of the most beloved figures in the Americana, blues and roots music world. She’s reached a larger and more diverse audience with each succeeding album and developed a reputation as a live entertainer that’s made her a staple of the international festival circuit.
Nonetheless, in December 2012 her voice was jeopardized by a neck surgery that left her unable to speak for several weeks. Both Original and the new Love Wins Again are impressive proof that she regained the entire scope of her vocal range—from confidential whisper to soaring declamation—and then some. Her performances on stage and on Love Wins Again are an outstanding testimonial to the power of the human voice.
“The voice is something that allows us to communicate past the limitations of the left brain,” Magness says. “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.”