I’ll pull no punches: Janiva Magness is one of the best blues voices you maybe won’t have heard of. Despite being only the second ever female artist to win the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award, she has been operating largely under the mainstream radar since the early ’90s, quietly building up steam, aided and abetted of late by the retro chops of Brian Setzer/Dan Hicks producer, Dave Darling. Now, with Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change in the Weather, she sets out to cover the work of a voice that’s been hears far more often.
Magness has done Fogerty before: she included “Long As I Can See the Light” in her 2016 release, the Grammy-nominated Love Wins Again. Clearly this hit a chord, as this time she runs with a further dozen, both CCR material and some later songs. But make no mistake, this is no cut’n’paste job, settling for substituting her husky vocal for his hoarse holler; rarely does she revisit the swamp-pop murk of the originals, applying instead varied shades of classic blues to the palette, giving new life and, dare I say it, depth. So, rather than the potential overkill of listening to a Creedence greatest hits selection, the varied timbres bring added nuance to the lyrics, bringing forth more — and again I falter — subtlety than the bombast Fogerty and the band gave the material (rightly so in their case, as it worked for the needs of their audience at the time).
Weather kicks off with the title track, solo Fogerty from his 1986 album Eye of the Zombie. I wonder whether Magness had heard Buddy Guy’s 1993 version? If she had, it barely shows, as she shakes it up a bit, a sense of anxiety rearing its head in the faster tempo, strangely redolent of the bluesy romps of Bob Dylan, after he got God and before he got Sinatra. The searing guitar here and elsewhere comes courtesy Darling. “Lodi” then sees more familiar fare, here a pleasant chug, sung in duet with rising country star, Sam Morrow, the song buoyed by swirling organ that lifts it above the simpler original.
Moving through “Someday Never Comes” with a Bonnie Raitt vibe, Magness then gives more soul than even managed by Mavis Staples on her own recent Jeff Tweedy-produced cover of “Wrote a Song For Everyone.” Despite the no-doubt-kudos of having Taj Mahal guest on “Don’t You Wish It Were True,” his (here at least) somewhat hokey presence detracts from Magness’s transformation of one of Fogerty’s more plinky-plinky songs into something more memorable.
Never mind, though, for then follows the majestic sweep of album’s high-water mark, a gloriously stripped back “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” all goosebumps, clipped guitar and Hammond, taking one of the best of CCR to an entirely different place. Not necessarily better but no less astonishing for that. A textbook example of how to make a much covered song your own.
Sadly, a dobro and/or slide-led “Bad Moon Rising” isn’t up to following that, possibly the weakest cover presented here, even if it’s likely to be the one that will be played the most. It isn’t so much bad as just too generic, too obvious. “Blueboy,” from 1997’s Blue Moon Swamp, gets similar treatment and, too, is beggared by the original.
Fearing thus a lull in proceedings, “Fortunate Son” thankfully raises again the game, rekindling the echo of the Stones (and Gimme Shelter) in the original, heightening that and rollicking it through. Needing now some slow, this is exactly what we get on this possibly most recent of Fogerty songs, “Deja Vu (All Over Again),” the lyrics as prescient now as when Fogerty wrote the song, in 2004. Slowing still more for “110 in the Shade,” a song made for this treatment, with a nod here to the exemplary soul-ridden backing vocals, embellishing the mood whenever they appear, which, together with her soothing yearn, has you bemoaning (sacrilege alert) the lack of variety in Fogerty’s own tones.
Finally, a fiddle and dobro led hoedown, “Looking’ Out My Back Door,” a complete, unexpected palate cleanser, possibly designed to remove any lingering melancholy. Channeling the spirit of Patsy Cline, this will be one you either love or hate. Conveniently placed at the end of the record, maybe one to skip then, but it isn’t my favorite of CCR either, beyond a certain kitschy charm. By trying maybe to up the egg in it, Magness loses even that, oddly out of step with the rest of this otherwise four-star piece of work.
Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty: Change in the WeatherTracklisting:
1. Change In The Weather (John Fogerty cover)
2. Lodi (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
3. Someday Never Comes (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
4. Wrote A Song For Everyone (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
5. Don’t You Wish It Was True (John Fogerty cover)
6. Have You Ever Seen The Rain (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
7. Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
8. Blueboy (John Fogerty cover)
9. Fortunate Son (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
10. Déjà Vu (All Over Again) (John Fogerty cover)
11. A Hundred And Ten In The Shade (John Fogerty cover)
12. Lookin’ Out My Back Door (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)