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Just one listen to The Devil is an Angel Too, Janiva Magness' ninth album and second for Chicago's venerated blues label Alligator, immediately reveals why she's the Blues Music Awards' reigning "Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year" and "B.B. King Entertainer of the Year" (only the second female to cop the "Entertainer" honorKoko Taylor was the first).
For sure, Magness knows about the blues. Once a foster child deemed "at risk," Magness' musical talents illuminated her life's path; she dedicates this release "to all Foster Youth and Alumni" and her liner notes include links to several online organizations devoted to this same cause. She's also serving for her fourth consecutive year as national spokesperson for Casey Family Programs, which promotes National Foster Care Month.
Fronting a band co-led by multi-instrumentalists David Darling (founder and leader of the Boxing Ghandis) and her husband Jeff Turmes, Magness' cyclone of a voice sometimes seems to echo Janis Joplin's vocal ghost, swinging all the way from her heels to belt out the country-fried "Walkin' in the Sun," and twirling like a banshee through this gritty, lowdown title track.
Magness (or somebody) sure knows how to pick her cover versions. They re-craft and re-energize "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," popularized by Graham Parker during his prime with The Rumour, into a contemporary blues, guitars sawing into the melody and drums hammering the pieces back together, and the throaty edge to her voice steeped in back-road whiskey and country tobacco, husky whispers of Janis's wild-child wailing.
She also slow grinds "I Want to Do Everything For You" (by Joe Tex) into a sexy and swivel-hipped blues, then snarls and moans the woman left behind blues in "Homewrecker" from the witheringly acid pen of Nick Lowe, a steamrolling arrangement which Magness' band absolutely flattens.
In the context of Magness' upbringing and this album's dedication, lines such as "It's a new life for me" help this slow-burning version of "I'm Feelin' Good" resonate with deep emotional power.
Track Listing: The Devil Is An Angel; I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down; Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love; I'm Feelin' Good; Weeds Like Us; Walkin' in the Sun; End of Our Road; Save Me; I Want to Do Everything for You; Your Love Made a U-Turn; Homewrecker; Turn Your Heart in My Direction.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.