'WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour': Janiva Magness
6:45 p.m. July 9 at The Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St. $10. (859) 252-8888. Woodsongs.com.
The title of the new album from Janiva Magness tells the whole story of this Detroit-born soul and blues belter: Stronger for It.
Reared in a school of very hard knocks, Magness has had a succession of fine albums for Chicago's lauded Alligator Records and some notable career recognition, including being only the second woman, behind the late Koko Taylor, to be named the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year at the annual Blues Music Awards. Those accolades have solidified an already mighty career.
All of which suggests that Stronger for It is one intense record. In many ways, it is. But the album-opening Magness original, There It Is, turns on the party mood fast with a huge, Southern-inspired R&B roar. It's an authoritative tune, though, as is I Won't Cry, a stark, percussive and lyrically assertive confession that reveals a true survivor's spirit. ("I get cut and I might bleed, but I won't cry").
Magness's life story is a traumatic tale. The separate suicides of her parents when she was 16 led to life on the street. At 17, she gave up her infant daughter for adoption. Subsequent years were spent in and out of multiple foster homes. But a growing infatuation with blues and soul — the music of Otis Rush, Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins — grounded her life and led to a recording career that got its start in Phoenix in the mid-'80s.
Today, the fiftysomething Magness has addressed her past and reconciled through her work as spokeswoman for National Foster Care Month. She also is an ambassador for the Foster Care Alumni of America.
But there are other areas where Stronger for It shows its strength. Aside from her own material, Magness lends her vocal command to the songs of Tom Waits, Buddy and Julie Miller, Shelby Lynne and Matthew Sweet. But the kicker is a wild, churchy take on Ike Turner's You Got What You Wanted.
Best of all, every time Magness issues a new album, she pays Lexington a visit with a performance at WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. She will be a guest again for Monday's taping at The Kentucky Theatre. Hillary Lowe, a 17-year old Pineville singer, also will be featured.
Bonnie meets Charlie
To the rest of the indie-pop world, he is Bonnie "Prince" Billy, a prolific songwriter with a taste for the melancholy. In fact, a recent guest appearance on the NPR quiz show Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! had host Peter Sagal admitting that Billy's folk, country and pop-informed musings "make me sad."
In Kentucky, though, Billy is better known as Will Oldham, a Louisville songsmith whose works have been heralded for nearly two decades. Artists who have cut his songs include the late Johnny Cash. The title tune from the 1999 Bonnie "Prince" Billy album I See a Darkness became a grim highlight of Cash's 2000 Rick Rubin-produced American III: Solitary Man.
Oldham continues to crank out recordings of new, reworked, collaborative and previously unissued material at a hearty clip. The newest is a six-song EP disc due out later this month titled Now Here's My Plan. It offers new recordings of past compositions, including I Don't Belong to Anyone, Beast for Thee and I See a Darkness.
Saturday brings Oldham back to Lexington for the first time in three years. The occasion will be a benefit concert for Appalshop and the Whitesburg community radio station WMMT-88.7 FM at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Ave. (8 p.m. $15. (859) 309-9499; Cosmic-charlies.com.)
Also of note: Oldham will be back on home turf next month. He will open an Aug. 9 concert at Louisville's Iroquois Amphitheater for Kris Kristofferson.