Those of you who remember my review of Janiva Magness Love Wins Again a few years ago are familiar with the huge esteem I hold for the vocal prowess of Ms. Magness. On that album she did a marvelous cover of John Fogerty’s “Long As I Can See The Light.” On her new Blue Élan Records release, Change In The Weather, Janiva Magness pays ultimate tribute to John Fogerty, one of America’s top twenty songwriters of the past half century. Once again, Janiva teams with gifted producer/songwriter/musician Dave Darling to help attain one of the pinnacle performances of her career. By creating an entire album plucked from the gems of the Fogerty catalog the Magness/Darling duo hit major pay dirt by mining this very fertile ground.
“Just like millions of other people, I’ve always been a fan of John Fogerty’s work. Both with Creedence Clearwater Revival and after, SO the idea of cover a covers album of his songs was pretty “close to home” for me really.” ~ Janiva Magness
The core recording group consists of Dave Darling (guitars), Zachary Ross (dobro and guitar), Gary Davenport (bass guitar), Steve Wilson (drums and percussion), and Arlan Oscar (keyboards). Backing vocals are the domain of Bernie Barlo, Janiva Magness, Dave Darling, and Zackary Ross. Two special guest vocalists, Taj Mahal and Sam Morrow, are each featured in captivatingly dazzling duets with Magness.
Magness and producer Darling choose a lot of well- known Fogerty songs, but on occasion they do dig a bit deeper into the formidable Fogerty catalog. Some of the arrangements do not veer far from the original swamp/rock versions, while some are semi-radical departures. Together, all the songs help create a broad representation of the big picture that firmly epitomizes the different styles of the eras covered. The album also maintains the stellar reputation that Janiva enjoys as an interpreter of other artist’s songs. Darling and Magness carry out a superb job in the sequencing of the album, making for a highly desirable listening experience.
The title track opens the record with semi-sparse accompaniment that via hand-clapping gives “Change In The Weather” a Southern gospel feel. Janiva’s vocal begins slowly and picks up steam as she further adds to the churchy feel with her testifying chants of “change.” A guitar solo at the two-minute mark briefly interludes before Magness switches to an echo-laden vocal.
One of my older brother’s favorite CCR songs, “Lodi,” is one of the finest efforts on the release. “Lodi” was the first single released on CCR’s Green River album (with “Bad Moon Rising” on b/side) in 1969. Janiva smartly duets with west-coast heavyweight Sam Morrow, who sounds to me like he was influenced by a young Bob Seger as he brings an ornery, outlaw vibe to the song. Hammond B-3 organ courtesy of Arlan Oscar further sweetens the deal on this song that accurately describes rigors of the not-so-glamourous life on the road for a struggling musician.
The final CCR single release in 1972 from the album Mardi Gras just before their official group break-up was “Someday Never Comes.” Fogerty has reported that his song inspiration came from the deep emotional scarring of his own parent’s divorce, and his own marital problems and the trauma caused by his band fragmenting. The somber “Someday Never Comes” finds Janiva singing with a Southern Blues angelic fragility that ensures every wise word hits home with a heart rendering command. The chorus squarely strikes the mark when Magness sings: “Well, I’m here to tell you now each and every mother’s son, you better learn it fast; you better learn it young, ’cause, “Someday” Never Comes.”
“Someday Never Comes” is a most personal ode to my baby brother Carson, and to every little boy who grew up being told “someday you’ll understand.” Then growing up to find their world had become even more complicated and chaotic than ever before. This lyric also speaks to the sins of the family unknowingly being passed from generation to generation.” ~ Janiva Magness
“Wrote A Song For Everyone” was the title track for John Fogerty’s 2013 album that featured his collaborations with many different artists. The song itself is a great example of the tremendous songwriting ability of Fogerty, and Janiva sings it gorgeously. A gentle rocking rhythm, deep message lyrical content, and skillful acoustic guitar combine with Janiva’s world-weary vocal to create a beautiful rendition. The background vocalists compliment the song exquisitely.
Taj Mahal provides a winning duet with Janiva on “Don’t You Wish It Was True” from Fogerty’s 2007 “Revival” studio album that was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Album of 2008. The duo of Taj and Janiva are playful despite the song’s cautionary content. Together they make the song a special exuberant treat, as well as one of my favorites on the release. It makes me yearn to hear Taj and Magness record an entire album together. Zachary Ross and his dobro slide guitar team with the steady rhythm section to grant the song a distinctive quality. The lyrical content will always remain relevant in this troubled world we live in.
“Have You Ever Seen The Rain” is one of the more radical departures to be found here, with it being given a funeral dirge tempo. This treatment allows Janiva’s sweet vocal to effectively drive home the astute lyrics of one of John Fogerty’s best known songs from CCR’s 1970’s Pendulum. The Hammond B-3 organ of Arlan Oscar provides a sturdy backbone to one of John Fogerty’s greatest Vietnam War protest songs.
“I wanted to say what I wanted to say and come to people in layers, so they were absorbing the beauty of it and enjoying the song, before it ever occurred to them what it was about.” ~ John Fogerty
Steve Wilson pounds the tom-toms with a vengeance and hits the drum rim with his drumstick keeping time with the bass guitar Gary Davenport to drive the rocking “Bad Moon Rising.” Electric and dobro guitars mesh masterfully while Janiva belts out the song’s foreboding lyrics with Hell Fire venom. I simply love this version with the entire ensemble taking the spotlight.
Fogerty’s solo 1997 release Blue Moon Swamp yielded “Blueboy” a song that contained a mix by legendary Bob Clearmountain. This is another song that has a gospel feeling; if the gospel ceremony was held at the banks of a swampy stream with moss hanging from the trees. Ross’s dobro rings out and the electric guitar compliments expertly as this one sounds perfect for a funk-filled roadhouse.
Janiva’s take on the protest song “Fortunate Son” doesn’t veer much from the CCR original version from 1969’s Willy and the Poor Boys, save for the piano taking a more prominent role. Janiva doesn’t over-sing it, instead she gets the passionate indignation just perfect.
“Fortunate Son” was written during the Nixon era, and well, let’s say I was very non-supportive of Mr. Nixon. There just seemed to be this trickle down to the offspring of people like him. I remember you would hear about Tricia Nixon and David Eisenhower. …. You got the impression that these people got preferential treatment, and the whole idea of being born wealthy or being born powerful seemed to really be coming to the fore in the late-sixties confrontation of cultures.” ~ John Fogerty
“Déjà Vu (All Over Again)” finds Janiva giving an unforgettable vocal deftness that will send shivers up the spine and tears to the eyes of anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War. I guess it could also apply to our skirmishes since then in Iran-Iraq, Desert Storm, or Afghanistan where our soldier boys and girls are still being slaughtered to line some billionaire’s pockets.
Magness’s unrushed vocal on “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” is beautifully rendered, with the background vocalists providing lovely counterpoints. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to have Mr. Fogerty himself duet with Janiva to really make it an extraordinary cut.
To end the album, the mood is lightened by a country tinged interpretation of “Looking Out My Back Door” which is wonderfully executed with the help of extra-special guests Rusty Young (Poco) on dobro and Aubrey Richmond on fiddle. Janiva’s vocal is as relaxed as a billionaire vacationing at an exclusive resort. The ultra-talented Rusty Young is almost about as great as he was in Poco, and the session-skilled Ms. Richmond supports him most agreeably. Janiva shows her versatility really well on this CCR song from Cosmo’s Factory.
On Change In The Weather Janiva Magness continues to maintain her position as one of the crème de la crème of female blues artists. Of course there will be quibbles about some songs not being included. I, for one, would have loved to hear Janiva do “Proud Mary” in the Ike and Tina arrangement. But, this is high quality stuff presented magnificently and should garner both critical and public acclaim.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com