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Syl Johnson: The Hi Records Masters

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Album Review

The Mississippi-born Syl Johnson first broke on the scene in the late '60s and early '70s, and had a few hits including, "Is It Because I'm Black" and "Concrete Reservation." He signed with Hi Records in 1971, and enjoyed a nine-year stint with the label, from which this set grabs 22 tracks. Without a flat-out amazing voice like label-mate Al Green, Johnson's skill was his impeccable timing and shrill delivery. Musically speaking, to some Johnson may not have been the recipient of the magical aspect of the Hi sound, but a few tracks here prove that isn't the case. Textbook Memphis shuffles like "Stuck in Chicago," "Music to My Ears" and the sweet "I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)" all have the type of awe-inspiring, quirky production values Willie Mitchell is famous for. Johnson's cast of personas were less convincing; early on, he either vacillated between being a vaguely Al Green-styled crooner to a rough-and-ready blues-influenced act. No surprise Johnson took to the former and prospered commercially and vocally. The playful and sneaky "Back for a Taste of Your Love" and "Feelin' Frisky" both present him a little shady, and that's when he's most believable. The Best of Syl Johnson: The Hi Records Years also takes five tracks from his 1975 classic Total Explosion. The songs — including Johnson's slowed-down take on Al Green's "Take Me to the River and "Watch What You Do to Me — have Johnson settling on more rough-hewed style with great, tough backing from the Hi Rhythm Section. Even those somewhat familiar with Johnson's work will be surprised by all of the ground covered here. The Best of Syl Johnson: The Hi Records Years is an illuminating look at one of R&B's most underrated talents.


Born: 1938 in Centerville, TN

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

A rollicking vocalist and gifted harmonica player, Syl Johnson has forged a career in both blues and soul. The brother of bassist Mac Thompson and guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Johnson, Syl Johnson sang and played with blues artists Magic Sam, Billy Boy Arnold, and Junior Wells in the '50s before recording with Jimmy Reed for Vee-Jay in 1959. He made his solo debut that same year with Federal. Johnson toured with Howlin' Wolf from late 1959 until 1962, when Willie Mitchell signed him to Hi Records. Johnson...
Full Bio
Syl Johnson: The Hi Records Masters, Syl Johnson
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  • $11.99
  • Genres: R&B/Soul, Music, Soul
  • Released: Jul 23, 1996

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