Dressed in a wine colored dress her attitude alternated between vampish and sassy but when Janiva Magness the 2006 Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year took to the stage at Calgary’s Red Onion on October 21st her passionate vocals stirred the emotions of both men and women.
Backed by a scintillating performance from her rhythm section the Los Angeles native met and exceeded the expectations of an audience that had lined up two hours prior to the concert to ensure a good seat. The performance was virtually sold out by the time the doors opened.
Both sets opened with guitarist Matthew Stubbs, former Memphian Gary Davenport (bass), Californian Bryan Head on drums and the incomparable Benny Yee on keys providing an instrumental introduction to the Blues diva. The band alone was worth the price of admission and Magness pushed the performance over the top.
"Workin’ On Me Baby" recalls Magness’ days growing up in Detroit soaking up the vibes of Motown’s greatest artists in the sixties. The singer’s rich alto vocalize on "I’m Just A Prisoner" was nicely comped by Yee working his magic on the B-3 Hammond organ. The song is the number one track from her Northern Blues CD Do I Move You and easily demonstrates why the blues community selected Magness as this year’s diva over such icons as Marcia Ball.
As the singer lamented the words to the ballad "You Were Never Mine" there was a hint of past flirtation with personal heartbreak. Tear soaked notes pulled at your heartstrings as the lights dimmed and the soulful brunette cooed the lyric.
Fingering his lower fretboard Stubb’s rich blues vocabulary and clever chord changes excited concert goers from the first note till the last. Yee was spectacular doing double duty on both the electric keys and organ.
Magness used both her banter and music to cajole and woo her fans. She can be gritty and party with the best of them. One moment she danced seductively across the stage while the next she donned a metal rubboard and with spoons in hand held a musical duel with Stubbs and Davenport.
Approaching fifty years old Magness admits to reveling in this period of her life and it shows as there is not a hint of pretension in her performance. At several points during the evening it looked as though she wanted to be on the dance floor partying as much as she enjoyed the stage.
Other high notes for the evening included, "I Give Up", "Don’t Let Your Memories" and J.B. Lenoir’s "Mojo Boogie". Her in your face "A Man Size Job" was memorable.
Calgary was the third and final stop of a brief tour of western Canada for Magness.