SYLEENA JOHNSON: The Rebirth Of Soul (Shanachie)

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The lovely Syleena Johnson is a proper soul singer with a real pedigree. Her father is soul/blues man Syl Johnson –most famous for his oft-sampled anthem ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ and the original waxing of ‘Take Me To The River’. In her career, Ms J has produced some blistering soul music – some of it helmed by her father. Now she treats us to a whole long player which was conceived and produced by Syl. It’s a simple concept – a set of covers of soul tunes, some better known than others; but what makes this so special is that clearly the two key participants – dad and daughter- know, respect and love the genre. What’s more, to keep it real, live instrumentation is used throughout and Syl has used his clout to persuade legendary session players like Tom Washington and Willie Henderson to get on board. The end result is a beautiful tribute to classic soul music – not a pastiche, not a karaoke exercise; rather an injection of freshness and energy into the familiar… a “rebirth” indeed.

The album was heralded by the single ‘We Did it’ and anoraks will know that the song was originally recorded by Syl himself (they’ll also tell you that that original was arranged by Donny Hathaway) and on this new version you can hear the joy of two people working on a project inspired by love. Syl gets Syleena to tackle another of his songs – the aforementioned ‘Is It Because I’m Black. Like the original, this is dark and brooding… sinister even. Other sombre moments include versions of ‘These Arms Of Mine ‘and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. Yep, great soul music can be a downer!

But great soul also has the ability to lift you up and make you smile and there are plenty of examples here. Chief amongst ’em is a belting version of Major Lance’s ‘The Monkey Time’. The two Johnsons play it like it should be played… chinking guitar, parping brass and wonderful second line harmonies. Dear old Curtis would be proud of it! The other big “up” moment is the cover of ‘Make Me Yours’ while for you old romantics, there’s ‘The Makings Of You’.

I’ve noticed that several US soul sites have made ‘Rebirth Of Soul’ their Album Of The Month”…. you can’t argue with that. Syl and Syleena have produced a proper soul Renaissance!

(BB) 5/5