Monday, December 13, 2010


I may have mentioned this before, and I may mention it again, but here is one of the greatest, most soulful vocal performances of all time, for your listening pleasure.  I remember where I was when I first heard it - a stretch of Interstate 55/70 in Illinois - and I'm just glad I didn't have to engage in any defensive driving maneuvers while it was playing or I might not be typing this right now.

Speaking of soul, I just received the massive doorstop of a boxed set that is Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology, and this weekend, I took my first dip (let's try another metaphor) in the Numero Group's bubbling, six LP/four CD cauldron of soul/blues/r'n'b stew.  I was fortunate enough to catch Johnson live at his recent, wall-to-wall packed show at Southpaw in Brooklyn.  He was thrillingly good: a harp-wailing, Strat-slinging, proto-rapping, unpredictable fireball of impish energy and pure entertainment.

Calling out (and getting) twenty-one hits from the band.  Doing a "Take Me to the River" to make you forget (if just for a night) all about Al Green and Talking Heads.  Johnson's performance made it absolutely clear that there's no substitute for the real thing, the original article.  You can be as meticulously retro as you want in putting together a band sound or making a recording, but you can't duplicate what someone like Syl Johnson has - his thing is too idiosyncratic, with way too much experience behind it.  R'n'b has moved on, producing new, equally inimitable masters - R.Kelly comes to mind - but when Johnson and his peers are gone, those extra elements that you can't get from a record will exist only in memory, as unrecoverable as the stage presence of Bessie Smith or the cornet tone of Buddy Bolden.

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