Nothing perks my ears more than a blues or jazz singer who sings unlikely songs & composers. Mike Nesmith [The Monkees] — Mary, Mary” (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band). Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart [The Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville”] – Cassandra Wilson, George Benson. Gerry Goffin & Carole King’s “Take a Giant Step,” (The Monkees) covered by Taj Mahal.
Though these aren’t blues-jazz songwriters their tunes were brilliantly reinterpreted into near-jazz classics. OK, it was done before — Charlie Parker did it to Gershwin twice (“I’ve Got Rhythm,” “Summertime”) & Miles Davis & John Coltrane did it with Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.”
So, when Grammy-nominated Janiva Magness’ new LP Change in the Weather: Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty (Bluelan Records – Release Sept 13) came — I wondered. Songs originally by Creedence Clearwater Revival? What did Janiva hear?
“Change in the Weather,” opens as the LP’s rockiest percussion-driven upbeat temperate tune. All songs are the same musicians except for #12 (“Lookin’ Out My Back Door”). Zachary Ross & Dave Darling (Lead Guitars) excel in dynamics here, Steve Wilson’s drums/percussion drive & Janiva’s — simply a typhoon.
Not much swamp-Delta sound but this is not CCR. With outlaw country-singer Sam Morrow in tow, Janiva does “Lodi,” & their soulfulness is commendable. The fuzz-toned lead — a nice contrast with Hammond organ (Arlan Oscar), Janiva’s blues-power (similar to Karen Lawrence — Blue by Nature, 1994), & Mother Earth’s Tracy Nelson (“Need Your Love So Bad). All good.
With “Someday Never Comes,” — a perfect showcase as Gary Davenport’s bass lays down a foundation to Janiva’s expressive voice. “Wrote a Song for Everyone” is grittier. Janiva wrings out every drop of angst, emotion & with good intonation, phrasing & blues vigor. What’s exceptional: which words are important — which aren’t.
Taj Mahal sings (plays banjo) on “Don’t You Wish It Was True.” His salty bellow with her sweet octave soar – pure pretzels & chocolate.
The addition of dobro (Zachary Ross) with banjo shouldn’t be on jazzy blues tunes. But it works. The CCR songs inhale & exhale new life. Other jazz/blues artists will explore the Fogerty songbook. Ms. Magness’ “Have You Seen the Rain,” is slower than the original & the angst, the sadness with backing vocals flows like an undercurrent.
“Bad Moon Rising,” could’ve been a mistake. But Steve Wilson’s drums/percussion & Zachary Ross’ dobro darkens the swampy track perfectly. Janiva’s Melissa Etheridge-like vocals ignite it. The guitars are fiery. I liked the slow down at the 2:00 mark as Janiva’s inflection bordered then on Tina Turner. Brilliant. A loss of no magic.
Swampy with seductive vocalizing “Blueboy,” has a special flicker. Smoky stuff too. How did California John Fogerty manage to write swampy-Southern hoodoo songs?
Ok, some medicine: “Fortunate Son,” & “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” – missteps. Not serious.
Fogerty’s aggression in the original “Fortunate Son” permanently stamped it as an indictment. Janiva’s performance with excellent piano (Arlan) is fine, but it’s too polished to be lyrically convincing. Like an opera singer singing rock.
“Déjà vu (All Over Again),” hits back with quality & style. All burners are aflame. It has authority & polish that is Ms. Magness. Impressive production by Dave Darling.
A more respectable memorable closer: the roots-oriented chain-gang vocals with all its potency on “A Hundred & Ten in the Shade” — though it’s like a slow dirge — Janiva sparkles as she always does.
The 48-minute LP: available at iTunes, or see more here : https://www.janivamagness.com/