04/22 8:30 PM - $27.5.00
After Janiva Magness added a 2016 Grammy nomination to her 26 Blues Music Award nominations — with seven wins, including Entertainer of the Year — she might have taken at least a short rest on her laurels. Instead, one of the preeminent voices in contemporary American roots music has raised the bar for herself. Magness’ 14th album, Love Is an Army, is a brilliantly crafted bridge between the past and present, blending the echoes of classic soul and Americana music with timeless themes of love and the very contemporary sound of protest.
Love Is an Army’s dozen songs reverberate with the timeless character of the Memphis Rhythm & Blues patented by the Stax and Hi Records studios, especially in tracks like “Back to Blue,” which opens the album and sets its tone, and “Hammer,” which features Grammy winning blues legend Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica. Another Tennessee music city, Nashville, is the geographic touchstone for the title number, a duet with Texas singer-songwriter Bryan Stephens, and for “On and On,” with Poco frontman Rusty Young on pedal steel guitar. Like Magness, both Stephens and Young are on Blue Élan Records. Other guest artists include the legendary Grammy-winning R&B singer Delbert McClinton, Grammy-nominated Mississippi hill-country blues torchbearer Cedric Burnside, and Americana Music Award-nominated bluegrass guitar and banjo virtuoso Courtney Hartman from the band Della Mae.
Magness’ inspired vocal performances unify all the elements of Love Is an Army and serve as a beacon for her coterie of guests. She displays new heights in her clarion tone and elegant phrasing, which are laid bare to the soul in the stone gospel voice-and-piano arrangement of “Some Kind of Love.” But the core of the album is, of course, the songs that Magness and her cast serve superbly in their performances. And many of those songs are essentially protest numbers, so it’s fitting they take musical inspiration from the ’60s and ’70s recordings by the likes of The Staple Singers and Al Green, whose lyrics about strength and love cut through the hubris and deceit that surrounded the Civil Rights struggle and the Vietnam War like a laser.
“Dave Darling and I had a real sense of urgency when we were writing and recording this album,” Magness explains. “What led the album was the lyrics, and the things that are happening right now — the division, the racism, the violence, and our leaders’ lack of concern about basic human issues like health care and poverty. The first song Dave and I wrote was ‘Love Is an Army,’ and then David brought in ‘Home,’ and the direction of the album was clear.” Dave Darling has produced six albums that garnered Grammy nominations. His collaborations include album with Brian Seltzer, Glen Campbell, Dan Hicks, and the Stray Cats.