Syl Johnson

Talkin' About Chicago

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Johnson's second CD for Delmark finds the soul sender writing or co-writing 12 of these 14 songs. They continue in the Memphis Stax tradition Johnson is known for, and he also throws in a couple of Chicago-style blues. Good backup comes from pianist/organist Charles Hodges, electric bassist Orlando Wright, and drummer Wayne Stewart. Occasional horn and vocal complement, and the second guitar of producer Pete Nathan on four tracks juices up the proceedings even further. Singing in a style pioneered by Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnson funks it up quite a bit. His "Come on with It," "Diff'rent Strokes," and "I'm Back into You" groove solidly, the latter tune in the same pocket as his immortal hit "Take Me to the River." Johnson whips out the harmonica for Magic Sam's "All Night Long" and the potent title track, his tune "Surrounded" is a hit as he talks about being an escaped convict of love, and states he's "happy to be under house arrest." Harder funk on the backup-vocal-and-horn-inspired "Sweet Dynamite" and a smaller groove for "Cheryl" define the core of Johnson's good-time sound. "Woo-Wee!" is more straight blues, while "Trade Secret" sends a message -- fight and then make up, works every time! Johnson seems to be having a great time leading this group, it's his enthusiasm that is more infectious than the actual music being made. He's also not a bad lead guitarist; perhaps a future recording will showcase this facet of his talent more extensively. Fans surely will enjoy this recording from an underappreciated figure of the '60s and '70s soul revival. Newcomers will discover one of the Stax-men who survived.

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