What Love Will Do

  • 2008
  • What Love Will Do
  • Janiva Magness
  • Alligator Records


“What Love Will Do” is one of the most nakedly emotional albums of the decade. It may not be confessional, since none of the songs is penned by Magness and the themes vary between smitten lover, jilted victim, and gloating survivor, but every song is sung with fervent, undeniable conviction. That’s no surprise; I’ve seen Ms. Magness perform live multiple times, and each time she can bring me to the verge of tears with the same song…because she means it just as much every time she sings it! Performing with such intensity must be formidably draining as well as cathartic, for Magness as well as her audience.

Although “What Love Will Do” is a studio album, with overdubs, it captures Magness’s passion. The opening cut, “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” is a rocker featuring a peremptory declaration of love and simultaneous vulnerability.. It’s followed by “I Want a Love,” which shifts the album into its prevailing mid-tempo soul mode. Tasty horn and organ back-up presage the excellent instrumental support present throughout.

Subsequent covers by songs by such luminaries as Al Green, Little Milton, Annie Lennox, and Bill Withers seesaw between the seductive blandishments of a besotted lover, the plaintive laments of a spurned paramour, and the assertiveness of a survivor of amorous heartbreak. Two numbers by Jeff Turmes, Magness’s husband and a talented multi-instrumentalist, are highlights. One, “You Sound Pretty Good,” is a sarcastic jab at the corporate pressures of commercialism on a performer’s artistic integrity (and is the only song on the album not focussed on amour); the other, “Sometimes You Got to Gamble,” closes the CD with spare instrumentation and a breathtaking depth of feeling.

None of the songs on “What Love Will Do” has a memorable melodic hook, but Magness makes each one special. Her voice brings up echoes of Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, and even Arethra Franklin, but like that of all great singers it is her distinctive own. After years of under-recognition, Magness was named Contemporary Female Blues Artist of the Year in 2006 and 2007 by the Blues Foundation. This album continues her ride at the wavecrest.

[This review initially appeared on the BluesWax Web site.]