Syleena Johnson is teaming up with her legendary father, soul singer Syl Johnson on the collaborative album, Rebirth of Soul. Due out November 10 via Shanachie Entertainment, the project was conceived and produced by Syl, whose original hit version of “Take Me To The River” was covered by Al Green and Talking Heads. Everyone from Jay-Z and Kanye West to Wu-Tang and Usher has sampled Syl Johnson’s recordings.
The album consists of Syleena’s searing interpretations of classic R&B songs, mainly from the Fifties and Sixties, recorded with live musicians. As Syl Johnson notes, “people don’t use live musicians much anymore; but every musician brings his heart to a recording.”
Syleena shares, “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.”
Recorded in Chicago, Syl Johnson’s long-time base and Syleena’s hometown, the sessions featured musicians who played on hit R&B recordings there over the years and a majority of the album features songs associated with Chicago artists, songwriters or record labels.
The first single is Syleena’s horn-filled rendition of her father’s song, “We Did It,” off his 1973 album Back for a Taste of Your Love. However, it has been noted that the album’s most standout track is her remake of his 1969 Black Power anthem, “Is It Because I’m Black,” originally arranged by Donny Hathaway. “It has been made apparent that we are still dealing with some of the same issues today as we have in the past,” Syleena says. “The state of our country shows how this song can still resonate even now. This is also a testament to how Soul Music still lives on.”
The songs on Rebirth of Soul, hand-picked by Syl Johnson, run the gamut from lesser-known gems such as Betty Everett’s “There’ll Come A Time” and Bettye Swann’s “Make Me Yours,” to such landmark hits as “Chain of Fools” and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” done definitively by Aretha Franklin and Etta James respectively.
Syleena manifests an uncanny ability to get inside each song, digging deep to deliver passionate performances that bring a fresh spark to even the best known selections. “For each song I channeled the emotions of the record,” Syleena confides. “I put myself in the mind of each storyteller and in doing this I was able to merge myself into the story of each record. This is how I was able to put my own personal stamp on each record.”
“The process of creating music with my father is not a difficult one. It’s actually the only space we get along perfectly,” confides Syleena. “Music is our strongest tie, and no matter what, he has always respected that particular bond inside of studio walls. He is very creative as an artist and he loves music with his true heart.”