Janiva Magness has got soul on her upcoming 13th album, Love Is An Army — and it was an easy place for the bluesy California singer-songwriter-guitarist to go.
“It’s a place where I live,” Magness tells Billboard about the 12-track set, which includes “Down Below” featuring Della Mae’s Courtney Hartman (watch the video premiere below). “We really wanted to lean into the Americana-soul element further than we had previously. I live in that place where there are fewer boundaries with regard to what I can and can’t do, what I’m allowed to do and what I’m not allowed to do. I’m really much more about serving the song, serving the music, and I love the idea of American roots music because it’s very broad. It’s a whole huge concept, and that’s very appealing to work in.”
Due out Feb. 23 and produced by Dave Darling, Love Is An Army — the follow-up to 2016’s Grammy Award-nominated Love Wins Again — is also Magness’ topical statement about the state of the world, but not explicitly naming names or pointing fingers.
“We wanted it to be very current,” she explains. “We wanted to speak to the pain in the world and what’s happening in this country — and in the world. It’s not just the U.S. It’s all over the world, the pain of the human condition that apparently we’re not going to escape any time soon. Music is the best defense that I have — it’s also the best offense that I have in my life. It isn’t my first rodeo coming to this party; I was the jailbait 13-year-old kid at the protest line in the 70s. But (music) is the strongest way, the best way for me to stand up.”
Many of Magness’ songs on Love Is An Army — which also features appearances by Delbert McClinton, Poco’s Rusty Young, Charlie Musselwhite and Cedric Burnside — deal with resilience in troubled times. “Down Below,” however, deals with a specifically troubled soul, and one who’s not likely to change any time soon. “It’s the story of a person who has an opportunity to be better, to stand in the light, but can’t,” Magness says. “They’re saying, ‘I love being here in your arms, but I can’t stay here. I’ve got to go back to where I belong, which is in hell, in the darkness. Where I belong is down below, in the pain.’ That’s a rough deal. I’ve been that person; Mostly I’m not that person now, but I’ve been that person.” Hartman, meanwhile, came to the track via a suggestion from Magness’ manager Jeff DeLia.
Magness begins her 2018 touring on Feb. 11 in Dallas, and she anticipates a lot of work ahead promoting the album. She’s also looking forward to taking the pulse of the “human condition” she sings about throughout Love Is An Army and feels a degree of optimism for the future. “I think the collective majority in the country, quite frankly, is mobilized in a way we haven’t been in quite some time,” she says. “I think that’s really true and really good to see. So that gives me great hope. I think the situation is looking to be pretty promising.”