Syl Johnson started out his career on the blues side of things, working with Howlin' Wolf, Junior Wells, Magic Sam and others, but his biggest successes have come as a soul singer, first for Peter Wright's TwiNight label (originally TwiLight Records, it became TwiNight when it was discovered that another label already owned the Twilight name) in the late 1960s, and then with Hi Records in the early- to mid-'70s. Working with the venerable producer Willie Mitchell and the unbeatable Hi rhythm section, Johnson put out four albums for the label, all of which are included here on this double-disc set, The Complete Syl Johnson on Hi Records, along with a handful of bonus tracks. Singing at the upper end of his range, Johnson sounds a bit (well, actually, a lot) like a poor man's Al Green, his labelmate at Hi, working the same smooth, sensual shuffle that Mitchell seemed to be able to pull effortlessly from the air. There's a lot to like here, including the sexy "Feelin' Frisky," the wonderfully sincere "I Want to Take You Home (To See Mama)," the hard-hitting "Stuck in Chicago," the goofy (but winning) "I Hear the Love Chimes," and Johnson's biggest hit with Hi, a version of Al Green's "Take Me to the River," which peaked at number seven on the R&B charts in 1975. The comparisons to Green are inevitable, but Johnson holds his own, sounding a bit more ragged and rough, although not as rough as he got on his earlier TwiNight sides, where he sounded at times like a stressed-out James Brown (not at all a bad thing, really). Critics are divided on which version of Johnson is better, the funkier TwiNight version or the smooth, soulful Hi version, but with this two-disc set and the single disc Twilight & Twinight on Collectables, you can have both and skip the argument altogether.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2