“Even with one of R&B’s greatest voices, and solid skills as a songwriter and a bandleader, Syl Johnson has never had a pop breakthrough to match his peers’. The meticulously annotated, suavely packaged “Complete Mythology” collects his music from 1959 to 1971, before he signed with Hi Records. Born in Mississippi in 1936, Mr. Johnson recorded for small labels in Detroit, Chicago and Memphis. Crooning, rasping, moaning, shouting or rocketing into falsetto, he mingled James Brown’s gusto and Al Green’s finesse. Mr. Johnson sang happy and sad love songs, would-be dance crazes — like “Different Strokes,” a top 20 R&B hit from 1967 that has been sampled by Michael Jackson, the Beastie Boys and Wu-Tang Clan — and stark political manifestos like the bluesy “Is It Because I’m Black” from 1969. While some songs imitate more successful hitmakers, Mr. Johnson’s voice is passionately his own, with a streak of wildness and a deep underlying ache.” — Jon Pareles
Not too shabby for an also-ran.
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