‘Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty’ Serves As Righteous Song Re-Framing (ALBUM REVIEW)

Grammy-nominated Janiva Magness, rather surprisingly to many, covers John Fogerty, with songs from both Creedence Clearwater Revival and his solo career on Change in the Weather. Magness, who in recent years, became a songwriter in addition to a song interpreter, the latter of which built her storied career as one of today’s’ top singers in blues and roots. She speaks about how challenging it is for her to write songs, but in the liners here, she offers insightful and refreshing insight to Fogerty’s ahead-of-his-time writing. She heard things in Fogerty’s lyrics that run parallel to many issues today. For example, this is what she says about the title track – “…The lyric for this tune is sharp, on point and supercurrent for many of today’s concerns. It also reflects a growing sense of urgency to deal with the problems of the world – Nature is retaliating, we are burning up, literally and figuratively. Fires, floods, earthquakes and more…”

Sure enough, she puts her own stamp on Fogerty’s songs. Unbelievably, she makes some of the songs even swampier. That’s true for the great radio tune, “Lodi,” which she sings soulfully in duet with Los Angeles-based outlaw country singer Sam Morrow.  A clear standout track is “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” slowed dramatically in tempo, allowing Magness to add delicate emotional nuances to the song that we’ve never heard. It’s the prototypical example of what Magness is capable of as a song interpreter. Let’s face it. We all know these Fogerty songs so it’s imperative to bring something new to them. She does continually, balancing the serious nature of Fogerty’s outlook with his joyful musical approach bringing the iconic, gravel-throated Taj Mahal in to sing in duet on “Don’t You Wish It Was True.”

A couple of aspects of this effort are not entirely new. Magness sand a gospel-infused version Of Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See the Light” on her 2016 Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Her admiration of Fogerty’s protest songs was realized in her own songwriting on her blistering 2018 Love Is an Army. She says, “John Fogerty is a brilliant writer. His melodies are big and rich and provide a real highway into the heart of his songs, which is wonderful for me as a singer, and their backbone is his storytelling, which is spare and direct, and absolutely American in its imagery and themes. And those themes endure.” She continues, “A lot of the lyrics of his early material were protest-oriented, and that’s important to me – to be speaking out about the current state of affairs in our country and the world. So, songs he wrote in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” which talk about welfare lines and turbulent times ahead, are still relevant.” When she sings the line “And I couldn’t even talk to you” from the latter, it rings with raw conviction. She’s lived it. 

Magness once again collaborated with her longtime partner, guitarist and Grammy-nominated producer Dave Darling, on this, her fifteenth album. Darling mostly uses a tight unit comprised of her touring band, drummer Steve Wilson, bassist Gary Davenport and guitarist Zachary Ross. Darling augments on guitar and Arlan Oscar on keyboards as well as a slew of backing vocalists. That’s the case except for the closing “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” originally not intended to be on the album, but included as an impromptu jam featuring guitarists Darling, Jesse Dayton, and Rusty Young who also plays dobro. Audrey Richmond adds the fiddle. It’s as straight-forward Fogerty as any tune of the album, but serves as the perfect singalong closer, reminding many of us how often we’ve heard this and some of Fogerty’s mega hits so many times on car radios or boomboxes.

Not only does Magness bring the vocal passion to his songs. Her descriptions in the liners and excerpting some key lyrics are spot on. From the protest-oriented “Déjà Vu (All Over Again)” we have – “Did you try to read the writing on the wall…Did that voice inside you say, I’ve heard this all before….” And, from the welfare lien perspective of “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” simply “If you see the answer- now’s the time to say!”

 

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