Friday, March 10, 2017

Syl Johnson Back In The Game

Syl Johnson Back In The Game

The Memphis Hi Records label is best known for Al Green’s recordings along with deep soul recordings by O.V. Wright and Syl Johnson. Syl, brother of Chicago bluesmen Mac Thompson and Jimmy Johnson, grew up next to bluesman Magic Sam. He had hits on Twinight and Hi Records, and surfaced on various small labels in the intervening years.

Delmark has reunited Johnson with the famed Hi Rhythm Section (brothers Teenie, Leroy and Charles Hodges and drummer Howard Grimes), and a crack horn section for Back in the Game, a mix of soul and blues with a gospel track added (a fervent duet with daughter, Syleena Thompson, Dipped in the Water). 

In the opening title track, Johnson makes it clear that he is “back in the game,” with a revived music career. The material includes reprising his Hi recording of Take Me to the River (with Johnson on harp) while his blues roots are displayed with a fine Driving Wheel and the impassioned version of Magic Sam’s All Your Love (dedicated to Sam and his brother Mac). Most of the other songs are deep soul, such as Anyway the Wind Blows and the pleading I Can’t Stop

Johnson’s singing has lost none of its conviction and this is the best album in this vein since Otis Clay’s live Japanese recording. 

I likely received a review copy from Delmark Records. This review originally appeared in the February 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 198). This is still in print. Here is Syl Johnson in performance.


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