Janiva Magness’s Hard to Kill

By Brian Rock

Blues legend, Janiva Magness, shows her toughness on her sixteenth album, Hard to Kill. After thirty years of belting award winning Blues (including the 2009 B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award,) Magness pauses to reflect on her life and career. Coinciding with the release of her autobiography, WEEDS LIKE US, Hard to Kill functions as the soundtrack to her life story.

“Strong As Steel,” sets the tone musically and thematically. With a walking, martinet bass line, and haunting background vocals, Magness asserts her toughness singing, “I’m bad business for the devil ‘cause I’m so hard to kill.” Combining Chicago blues and Memphis soul, she looks back on the poor life choices of her past, and confesses, “It’s a miracle I made it past my 21st birthday.” But the power in her voice shows that everything she’s been through, including the passing of her own parents before she was sixteen, has only served to make her stronger.

Switching to electric Delta blues, Magness continues her theme of survival on, “I’m Still Here.” Slide guitar, hypnotic drums, and Hammond organ cast a musical Voodoo spell as Magness asserts, “I’ve been thru the fire… and I ain’t going nowhere.” Having survived the grief of losing her parents, the uncertainty of a litany of foster homes, and the despair of addiction, Magness takes time to enjoy life on the other side of her struggles. “Don’t You Forget About Me,” is the most joyful breakup song you’ll ever hear. Like Aretha Franklin’s “Think,” Magness realizes she’s reached a point in her life where she can do better than her current lover. Without bitterness or anger, and even showing gratitude for the past good times, she celebrates her new independence with gospel level enthusiasm. 

“Lover Girl,” serves up more organ-infused Memphis soul to make a demand for romantic commitment. “You and Me,” captures a breezy, Philly soul sound as she contemplates a better life ahead. Full of optimism, she sings, “I do believe broken hearts can be mended. Just look at me – and see the troubles I’ve transcended.” Magness delivers these songs with a power and a passion that’s part Tina Turner and part Tami Nielson. She sings with the kind of power that only comes from overcoming adversity.

She recalls that adversity on the blues ballad, “Fireman.” Drawing a metaphor between life’s struggles and fires, she assumes her role as fireman to put out the flames of the past. “Comes Around,” looks back on the ebb and flow of life and realizes that every sorrow is followed by joy and that “love always finds a way.” “Closer,” sees her wax philosophic as she confesses, “I’m a little bit older, a little bit wiser, a little bit closer to the grave.” Growing older has helped her put her life in perspective and make sense of all the experiences that came before – except one. “Oh Pearl,” is Magness’ heartbreaking confessional to the daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. With gut-wrenching honesty, she sings, “The doctor took you from my chest – told me I was your poison… I wrote this song for you. I hope your dreams come true. My mother failed me too. Maybe you’re better off without me.” 

Even in her darkest hour when she was plagued by despair and addiction, she thought about what was best for someone else. That is enlightenment. That is the mark of a soul that’s been purified by life’s fires. That beautiful soul and that indomitable spirit shine through in each of these songs. It turns out Janiva Magness is “Hard to Kill,” because her soul is so fully alive.  |  fb  |  buy

Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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