Syl Johnson reviews…September 6, 2017…..

SYL JOHNSON

DIFFERENT STROKES ’69-’71

TWINIGHT RECORDS  TRI2005-001

DIFFERENT STROKES–TRY ME–COME ON SOCK IT TO ME–SORRY BOUT DAT–I CAN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS–DRESSES TOO SHORT–I’VE GOT THE REAL THING–I RESIGN–SOUL DRIPPIN–SOMEONE LIKE YOU–I FEEL AN URGE–HOME WORK–TRYING TO GET TO U–WIGGLES–SAME KIND OF THING–GOING TO THE SHACK–NEW DAY–LET THEM HANG HIGHER–ODE TO A SOUL MAN–SKINNY LEGS–TAKE ME BACK–DON’T GIVE IT AWAY–ABRACADABRA–COME ON SOCK IT TO ME (INST.)

SYL JOHNSON

IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK?  ’69-’71

TWINIGHT RECORDS  TRI2005-002

RIGHT ON SISTER–IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK–COME TOGETHER–CONCRETE RESERVATION–WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES–ONE WAY TICKET–KISS BY KISS–BLACK BALLOONS–GET READY–TALK ABOUT FREEDOM–NEW DAY–THANK U BABY–YOUR LOVE IS GOOD FOR ME–WE DO IT TOGETHER–THAT IS WHY–WIGGLES–TOGETHER FOREVER–IS IT BECAUSE I’M BLACK 2006–MS FINE BROWN FRAME–TELL THE TRUTH

Syl Johnson is one of the last living links to the classic soul era of the Sixties and Seventies, himself a contemporary of legends such as Al Green, Pickett, and Solomon Burke.  Syl recorded for Twinight Records during his heyday, and they have painstakingly reissued these ground-breaking sides over two CD’s, “Different Strokes 69 -’71,” and “Is It Because I’m Black?-’69-’71.”  Each have arrangements done by Donnie Hathaway, and we offer our review for each set herein.

Syl has a rare vocal quality that combines the suave cool of Sam Cooke with the fire and brimstone of James Brown.  And, as with many artists of that era, being socially-conscious carried as much weight as having a hit on the charts.  As such, over the course of these two CD’s, you will find dance floor grooves standing alongside songs of social and racial injustice.

We graciously begin with the second set, full of these hot-button cuts, as well as a few vintage love songs.  The title cut says it all–Syl spoke for his entire race in this song, where he knows that, deep down, “something is holding me back.”  “Concrete Reservation” deals with the gritty conditions of ghetto life, while he urges us all to realize our need to be free, “Talk About Freedom.”  And, in our favorite politically-charged cut, Syl urges politicians to “Tell The Truth”  about the Katrina disaster in 2005, with this immortal lyric—“the government or Katrina–who is meaner?”

The first set is considerably more upbeat, with songs primarily geared for the dancers and the dance crazes of the day–the Boston Monkey, Philly Dog, Boogaloo, and others.  His first hit is here, “Come On Sock It To Me,” along with other gems such as “Different Strokes,” “Wiggles,” and three of our favorites, “Going To The Shack,” “Dresses Too Short,” and its “answer song,”Let Your Dresses Hang Higher.”

Syl could sing for the ladies, too.  Check out “I Resign,” and a great duet with Syleena Johnson’s mother, Brenda, on “Someone Like You.”

The rap community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Syl Johnson and his music, as Syl is one of the most sampled R & B artists of all-time,  with artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Tone Loc, and many more using their music to spread Syl’s legacy.  As for us, being able to revisit and review these historic sides from our youth has been both an honor and a privilege.  Syl Johnson is not only a dynamite entertainer, he became a spokesman for an entire race thru the seminal sides contained in these two excellent collections.  Right On, Syl!  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.

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