By Jack Barnes
The iconic Etta James once said about authentic soul and blues music, “You can’t fake this music. It’s how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them.” Syleena Johnson is one of those undeniable talents whose unfaltering truth shines through every note she sings. Undoubtedly one of the best singers of her generation, Johnson has collaborated with everyone from Kanye West and Common to Anthony Hamilton and R. Kelly. In recent years she has enjoyed mainstream exposure appearing on such television shows as TV One’s “R&B Divas: Atlanta” and WE TV’s “Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars” and as of last month, Syleena is featured on the new TEGNA Media/ TV One daily live talk show “Sister Circle.” Enjoy this audio stream below after the jump.
On November 10, 2017 Shanachie Entertainment will release REBIRTH OF SOUL, a recording that Syleena has long wanted to bring to fruition. Conceived and produced by her father, the legendary soul/blues singer and producer Syl Johnson, whose original hit version of “Take Me To The River” was covered by Al Green and Talking Heads. Everyone from Jay-Z and Kanye West to Wu-Tang and Usher has sampled Syl Johnson’s recordings.
REBIRTH OF SOUL features Syleena Johnson’s searing interpretations of classic R&B songs, mainly from the Fifties and Sixties, recorded in real time with live musicians just the way “real music” used to be made. As Syl Johnson notes,”People don’t use live musicians much anymore; but every musician brings his heart to a recording.” Recording in Chicago, Syl Johnson’s long-time base and Syleena’s hometown, the sessions include musicians who played on hit R&B recordings there over the years and a majority of the album features songs associated with Chicago artists, songwriters or record labels. Syleena shares, “The inspiration behind REBIRTH OF SOUL is my father. I wanted to honor him and classic soul music in a time when auto tune and electronic beats reign supreme. While I am not against this kind of creative musicianship, there is so much more to the real thing. True Soul music tells stories…stories that can heal a nation.” The songs on REBIRTH OF SOUL, hand-picked by Syl Johnson, run the gamut from lesser-known gems such as Betty Everett’s “There’ll Come A Time,” Johnson’s own “We Did It” and Bettye Swann’s “Make Me Yours” to such landmark hits as “Chain of Fools” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” done definitively by Aretha Franklin and Etta James respectively. Syleena manifests an uncanny ability to get inside of each song, digging deep to deliver passionate performances that bring a fresh spark to even the best known selections. “For each song I channeled the emotions of the record,” Syleena confides. “I put myself in the mind of each storyteller and in doing this I was able to merge myself into the story of each record. This is how I was able to put my own personal stamp on each record.” A stand-out track is Syleena’s version of her father’s 1969 Black Power anthem (Is It Because I am Black) originally arranged by Donny Hathaway, which seems all-too-relevant today. “It has been made apparent that we are still dealing with some of the same issues today as we have in the past,” Syleena notes. “The state of our country shows how this song can still resonate even now. This is also a testament to how Soul Music still lives on.”
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Props to NPR
Previously: New Music: Syleena Johnson – We Did It [Audio]