Complete MythologyAlbum | Syl Johnson By Jim Allen
A guided tour through the evolution of soul.
Boutique reissue label The Numero Group specializes in expertly curated, lavishly appointed archival collections that make hardcore collectors salivate and help forestall the demise of physical releases in a download-dominated music world. Their loving treatment of R&B cult hero Syl Johnson is perhaps Numero's crowning achievement: a massive, hardbound box containing a full overview of the soul man’s first 15 years (1959-’73) on six LPs and four CDs, with a handsome 52-page booklet. (The four CDs, containing the same tracks as the LPs, are basically thrown in to appease the digital heathen). Complete Mythology includes a goodly number of Johnson’s widely sampled hits (“Different Strokes,” “Come On Sock It To Me,” “Is It Because I’m Black”), but the real appeal is the wealth of equally impressive non-hit singles, many of which are reissued for the first time here, not to mention 10 never-before-heard tunes. Listening to Johnson’s development is like getting a guided tour through the evolution of soul, from ‘50s-style blues and R&B to horn-punctuated, Stax-like ‘60s tracks, James Brown-juiced funk jams, and sensual ‘70s Hi Records romps. There are any number of theories as to why Johnson never achieved the full-on stardom he so richly deserved, including his second-fiddle status to Hi Records labelmate Al Green and his own well-documented craziness. (Though really, he was no more of a nut job than Green or Brown ever were.) But who’s got time for Monday morning quarterbacking when there are all these tasty tracks to be absorbed?
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