Saturday, October 07, 2006

Soul-Blues Saturday: Johnson Power! (Pt. 2)

Syl Johnson (Featuring Syleena Johnson) - Half a Love

Today's post revisits last week's post about Syl Johnson and family. As I mentioned then, after the early '80s Syl shifted his focus to his fish restaurant business and made only sporadic appearances in the studio. By the '90s Syleena, his daughter, had begun to show some serious musical talent as a singer, but Syl, still irritated about the music business, discouraged her making a career of it. Despite his misgivings, Johnson did bring Syleena in the studio for the 1995 album This Time Together by Father and Daughter, whose cover art amuses me highly - Syleena's photo (a school picture?) is pure 1990s fashion, but Syl looks like he's caught in a '70s time warp! This low-budget affair did not make much noise upon release. As the decade continued, however, Syl began a comeback of sorts, recording several good soul-blues albums which included great guest turns by the Hi Rhythm Section, the Two Johnsons Are Better Than One album with his brother Jimmy, and Bridge to a Legacy, from which today's selection is drawn.

"Half a Love" is a nice bluesy soul ballad featuring a good guitar groove from Syl, but the tune is really a showcase for Syleena, whose vocals remind me of Candi Staton or Millie Jackson as she warns the ladies about two-timing men. Syl jumps in for one verse to make it clear that cheating is a two-way street, and his soulful enthusiasm adds some fun to the proceedings (I love the line "check your watches, fellas, 'cause we're living in a different time"). This is a song that would've been a solid smash back in Syl's heyday, in my opinion, and it's one of my favorite soul-blues recordings.

Syleena's desire to break into showbiz was fully realized at the dawn of the 21st century, when her second solo album, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness resulted in the hit "I Am Your Woman," which got a lot of airplay on adult urban radio. The next album, Chapter 2: The Voice gave her a hit with "Guess What," another message to the menfolk featuring her great voice. A guest turn on Kanye West's hit "All Falls Down" gave her immense exposure in the urban contemporary and pop markets, and her newest album, Chapter 3: The Flesh, is sure to continue her rising career. The "bridge to a legacy" has indeed been crossed!

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