It's hard to talk to blues singer Janiva Magness and not bring up the rub board. "It's custom made," she says. "The patent is owned by a woman from New Orleans." Magness tells me where she bought it and that each one -- a Madonna-esque metal chest plate with breast cones -- is made to fit. Worn around the neck and played with a stick or a spoon, a rub board adds tinny grit to the mix. In the Delta in the '20s, urban musicians used a standard-issue laundry room rub board (sans cones) as a found rhythm instrument along with things like washtubs and broomsticks and glass jugs.
I like the vintage sounds that Magness brings to modern blues. I ask her if the album she is presently recording for her new label, Alligator, will follow along the same string bass and bumpy baritone sax path as her past two CDs. "Is it gonna be the same thing as Do I Move You?" she says. "No. Is it gonna lean in a similar direction as in the Memphis soul kind of direction? Yeah. Absolutely. I love that stuff."
Part of Magness's life now is speaking to groups of children about the "gnarly shit that I went through." She is this year's spokesperson for National Foster Care Month. "I'm an alumni of foster care. I went through 12 foster homes in two years when I was a kid. I had a fairly rough comin' up." As she tells me her story her voice shifts, and I begin to hear where her blues comes from -- not from the depths, but from the redemption. "I came out the other side. And the point is, that part of my life no longer defines me. I'm not trapped there anymore. Do I have dark days? You bet I do. Does the music serve me? Thank God for the music. It totally serves me. It totally helps me with my healing process."
JANIVA MAGNESS, Anthology, Friday, December 14, 7:30 p.m. 619-595-0300. $9 to $27.