Live From The Bell House: Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, Big Sandy And His Fly-Rite Boys, Dennis Coffey & Syl Johnson
Hailing from deep down in Mississippi, Johnson's roots are as a blues sideman, playing for the best. We're talking Jimmy Reed, Magic Sam, Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf. It was Johnson's 1970s work for Hi Records that went on to form the heart of his reputation as a soul man. This was also the home of Al Green, governed by Willie Mitchell's production prowess.
As usual, the evening's star attraction was backed by The Sweet Divines, a combo that have developed into prime Brooklyn soul interpreters. The singers who give the band its name, and their horn section, supplied an underlining dialogue, whilst Johnson took over the raw, lowdown tones and the occasional understated guitar solo embellishment. Garbed formally in suit and tie (but sporting shades), his personality comes across as a mixture of ornery and jokey, commanding and casual. Johnson's authority allows him to pepper a smooth entertainer persona with social comment and cussing interludes. He's old-fashioned, but also sly and sharp. The brightest-shining moments might have been slightly predictable, but who can resist the classic sting and swell of "Is It Because I'm Black?" and "Take Me To The River"?