Syleena Johnson

Chapter 2: The Voice

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The fact that both Buddy Guy and R. Kelly made guest appearances on Syleena Johnson's 2001 release, Chapter 1: Love, Pain & Forgiveness, is quite revealing -- it tells you that the Chicago-based singer has a connection to both the past (soul and the blues) and the present (urban contemporary and hip-hop). And that urban/neo-soul outlook continues to serve Johnson well on her generally excellent follow-up, Chapter 2: The Voice. Like Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, Jaguar Wright, and Jill Scott, Johnson obviously has a strong sense of history -- '60s and '70s soul have had a major impact on her gritty, rugged vocals, and she brings an impressive amount of blues feeling to her performances. Johnson's phrasing recalls '70s soul belters like Betty Wright and Millie Jackson, although the album's production is quite mindful of urban contemporary and hip-hop. So when all is said and done, tracks like "Tonight I'm Gonna Let Go" and "Faithful to You" acknowledge R&B's history without sounding dated or being totally retro. Johnson covers Alicia Myers' "If You Play Your Cards Right," and she does so without giving the impression that she's stuck in the past. Chapter 2: The Voice is soul music, but it's neo-soul music that is relevant to the urban contemporary scene of the early 2000s. And considering who her father is, Johnson's soulfulness is to be expected -- her father, after all, is Syl Johnson, who is a major soul heavyweight even though he was never as commercially successful as Al Green, Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield (which isn't to say that his small following isn't devoted and enthusiastic). One of the more substantial urban/neo-soul efforts of 2002, Chapter 2: The Voice gives Syl plenty of reason to be proud of his daughter.

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