Syl Johnson | SPACE | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader

Syl Johnson Member Picks All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Fri., Nov. 28, 8 p.m. 2014

Of Syl Johnson’s 19 chart appearances between 1967 and 1982, only one was a top-ten hit (“Take Me to the River” reached number seven on the R&B charts in 1975), but it would be a mistake to understate his influence on account of those numbers. His street-tough, contemporary sound contains echoes of Chicago’s blues and gospel heritage—and it foretold the style that has since become known as “soul-blues.” (Johnson has also been sampled widely by hip-hop artists, including Kanye West, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, and most notably the Wu-Tang Clan.) Favorites such as 1969’s “Is It Because I’m Black” and 1970’s “Concrete Reservation” arose from and enriched the deep-soul tradition of righteous social protest; even 1982’s “Ms. Fine Brown Frame” transcended its leering lyrics to become a statement of racial pride. Johnson’s latest album, last year’s Syl Johnson With Melody Whittle Featuring Syleena Johnson (Twinight), pairs him with pop-leaning Australian vocalist Melody Whittle and includes a show-stopping turn from his youngest daughter, Syleena, best known as a mainstream R&B artist. Johnson’s leathery, pugnacious vocals blend well with Whittle’s melismatic modernist singing, and Syleena storms back to church with a tumultuous rendition of the 1969 Betty Everett hit “There’ll Come a Time.” The set list balances standards and new originals, and with his choice of material as well as his deep-blues harmonica work, Johnson demonstrates that even a roots man like him can stay creative and relevant across many eras and genres. —David Whiteis

Price: $15-$27

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