Syl Johnson

Is It Because I'm Black

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    9
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Syl Johnson's first album, Dresses Too Short, was fairly innocuous good-time soul, but he'd obviously been doing some thinking about the world around him in the interim between that and his second release. Is It Because I'm Black is characterized by socially conscious songwriting, especially in the seven-and-a-half-minute title track, an elongated, serious statement of black pride with a sad funk-blues groove. It wouldn't be fair to call Johnson a bandwagon jumper; this was before Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On had made realistic ghetto songs chic, and it was a fairly gutsy move for a minor soul singer such as Syl to put such material at the forefront. While nothing else here matches that lost mini-classic, there are some good cuts along similar lines in which Johnson pleads for tolerance and justice, including covers of jazzman Oscar Brown's "Black Balloons,"Joe South's "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," and, less successfully, the Beatles' "Come Together."