The redoubtable Syleena Johnson is one of modern soul’s most uncompromising artists and if you doubt that, grab a listen to this – the lady’s sixth full long player and the latest chapter in her own soulful soap opera.
Like all her previous albums, ‘Chapter 6’ deals with love and relationships in an honest and, sometimes, raw way. As ever the music offers a glimpse of where she was emotionally whilst making the record and maybe it wasn’t such a good place if we’re to judge by the set’s lead single. ‘Perfectly Worthless’, you see, is a searing, ponderous ballad that outlines the pain at the end of an affair. And who can’t identify with her commentary… “I thought we were strong. Guess I was wrong. Since you said we’re through. I’ll play the fool. Broke all the rules while loving you.”?
If you like that kind of musical therapy there are plenty more to match that melancholy…. amongst them ‘If I Was Your World’ and ‘No Beginner’ (a duet with Willie Taylor). Thankfully, though, there are plenty of more “up” moments for that all-important counterpoint. Try the big brash opener for starters. ‘All This Way For Love’ is a breezy modern soul dancer (already winning plaudits on the dance s scene) but despite its lilt, the lyrics are as honest as any Syleena has ever penned. It is, without doubt, an album highlight.
Other great cuts include the lovely, sweet slowies ‘If You Need To Know’ and ‘My Love’… both gorgeous old school throwbacks. Elsewhere expect plenty of R&B bumpers and beaters with guest input from Leela James (‘Fool’s Gold’) and Dave Hollister (‘Harmony’).
Listeners new to Syleena’s art will, I’m sure, make comparison to Alicia Keys. The songs, the themes, the mix of old school and modern R&B flavours, the piano colouring and much more all encourage comparison with the little lady from Hell’s Kitchen. But listen harder and you hear more commitment, more attitude and yes, more balls from Syleena Johnson than you’ll get on Alicia Key’s big label-financed, glossier music.