Syleena Johnson ‘Rebirth Of Soul’ CD/DIG (Shanachie) 5/5

I’ve protested in ink before about ‘covers’ albums, my general feeling is that it’s lazy and lacks imagination, but every now and again one arrives that actually does the whole project justice and this one is such. Syleena possesses a voice that could melt a soul man’s heart a thousand miles away. Add to that, the production duties of her father – the one and only Syl Johnson, a legend of the RnB, Blues and Soul world from back in the day – and you really do have to pay attention. I have everything Syleena Johnson has ever released, so I am no stranger to her voice and style.

So let’s get started. If like me, you listen to soul radio, then her version of Betty Swan’s “Make Me Yours”, will have filled the airwaves at some time with Syleena already making the sound her own, although none of the songs on this album actually steer too far from the originals, but they do all add a new modern twist that will please most listeners. Her father’s “We Did It”, is more urgent and has Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records sound stamped all over it. Then we have “Is It Because I’m Black?”, which is nothing short of sensational and could really break on black radio stations and is so so relevant to what is happening in these unstable vulnerable times – what a modern-day anthem this is and one that truly deserves an extended 12” release. The often recorded, “I’d Rather Go Blind”, is another stunning tune but I’m afraid of all the modern versions around, the Ruby Turner version still gets my vote! But hey, if you’re listening to this for the first time without any knowledge of the previous covers, then listen and enjoy it for what it is, an honest heart-felt piece of music.

I’m somewhat unsure about how I felt when first hearing her version of “These Arms Of Mine”. It’s an Otis classic and I just can’t help myself comparing, it does work well yes, so nothing negative to say other than there’s been a huge original out there. As for her take on “Lonely Teardrops”, that is one that should have been left alone however, the Major Lance cover of “Monkey Time” works surprisingly well. For me the repeat play favourite is the breathtaking “There’ll Come A Time”, an eye-opening moment for me, with an effortless rare groove rhythm, strong vocals travelling up and down the range, horns that sound like those you’ve heard on a million Chicago soul records, just special. I also love the sugary sweet “The Makings Of You” which meanders along effortlessly. To summarise; if you haven’t got this on your Christmas list, you best be quick, as I reckon Santa will be sending these out to his friends and family.

Brian Goucher