Soul singer extraordinaire Syleena Johnson is going old school on her latest album Rebirth of Soul. Decamping to her hometown of Chicago, Johnson created the LP with her father Syl Johnson producing and a group of musicians recording live takes of every song to achieve maximum energy as well as the genuine feeling of a real performance. Johnson is such an accomplished vocalist that she imbues every song with heart, emotion, and deep, moving, soul.
Rebirth of Soul is also a covers project taking in a set of stellar tracks from the ’50s and ’60s, including soul classics like “Chain of Fools” and “I’d Rather Go Blind”, as well as Syl’s 1969 Black Power anthem, “Is It Because I’m Black?” Johnson says, “The difference with this album is that I had the opportunity to record with live instrumentation as well as actual musicians from the (classic) era. On this album, I didn’t write any of the songs, and it was the first time in a while that I worked with my father. I had to tap into the soul and spirit of the era of each song to bring authenticity to the project.”
By way of preview, we have Johnson’s sublime version of Bettye Swann’s biggest hit “Make Me Yours”. Johnson chose the song because it “is the type of song that transcends all eras. I can hear that record on the radio now.” Indeed, the song possesses the poppiness and feel-good nature of Northern soul and Johnson channels the songs’ emotions, creating a truly fresh take.
Johnson tells PopMatters that “the inspiration behind Rebirth of Soul is my father. I wanted to honor him and classic soul music in a time when Auto-Tune and electronic beats reign supreme. While I am not against this kind of creative musicianship, there is so much more to the real thing. True soul music tells stories… stories that can heal a nation.”
Syleena Johnson’s new album Rebirth of Soul releases 10 November via Shanachie Entertainment.