Syl Johnson

Twilight & Twinight (Masters Collection)

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Syl Johnson has enjoyed a long recording career, first on King Records then for Peter Wright's Chi-town setups and stints with Hi, Delmark, and other labels. The Wright sessions, featured here, represent Johnson's finest and best-known tracks, many of which became substantial R&B hits. The Hi tracks are smoother and more majestic, but for raw soul, grits, guts, and conviction, these are the tracks that collectors and aficionados covet. Johnson combined uptown soul with urban blues and stayed on the R&B charts with aggressive numbers like "Come on Sock It to Me," "Different Strokes" (the era's buzz phrase), and "Dresses Too Short." "Concrete Reservation" is a sociopolitical song about the large, brick public housing projects in inner cities that many viewed as confining, without barriers, as the original Indian reservations. He plays the race card as adroitly as a bull walking through a china shop on "Is It Because I'm Black"; the message doesn't have to be explained on this one, Johnson slaps you in the face with it, heavy stuff for the '60s. "I'll Take Those Skinny Legs" is a takeoff of Joe Tex's "Skinny Legs and All," and you must check his gritty version of "Get Ready," which Johnson gives new implications. There are some good love songs too: "Together, Forever" by bass player Bernard Reed, Joshie Armstead's "I Feel an Urge," and the braggadocio "I Can Take Care of Business."

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