Bridge To A Legacy

Syl Johnson

Antone's Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


One of the most important things in blues, R & B and soul is to never forget your roots. While it is always important to move ahead with the music, you should always maintain a solid knowledge of (if not a foot planted in) where you came from.

Take Syl Johnson. A veteran of the R & B scene, Johnson has tasted success before in his career, and has, for the most part, enjoyed a fruitful career in the music industry. When he returned to music in 1993, it was on his terms. His second release since his comeback, Bridge To A Legacy, showcases some powerful modern rhythm and blues, as well as the pitfalls that can occur when merging old and new schools of thought.

Johnson (the brother of bluesman Jimmy Johnson, who we just reviewed a few days ago) is a powerful guitarist and a decent vocalist, though I honestly can't hear any traces of harmonica on this album (unless I'm listening to this disc way past my bedtime, a possibility I'm willing to admit to). Songs like "Who's Still In Love" (complete with a sudden, surprise ending) and "Unconditional Love" demonstrate the power that Johnson has over his self-penned material. (All but one of the songs on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Bridge To A Legacy were co-written by Johnson.)

Johnson tips his hat to the younger generation on this album on his duet with young bluesman Jonny Lang. The track "I Been Missin' U", the album's first single, is a strong performance from both old and new, with each performer helping to accent the other's contributions. Likewise, Johnson's daughter Syleena gets a turn in the spotlight on "Half A Love," though one has to wonder if it would have been a stronger song had she been the only featured vocalist on the track. (Something just didn't seem right when Johnson came in with his vocal halfway through the song.)

Johnson's roots in the history of R&B shine forth on tracks like "Midnight Woman," and songs like this make you wonder why he didn't become as popular of an entertainer as someone like Marvin Gaye. It almost seems like Johnson pays tribute to the 1983-era Gaye on songs like "Let's Get It On Again" and "Sexy Wayz," the latter reminding me of some of Gaye's more suggestive material. Sadly, this particular track serves only to break the mood of the rest of the album, and feels quite out of place. (The drums on this track also sound sampled, something I can't verify on my pre-release copy of the disc. If they are indeed sampled, it's a waste; drums were meant to be live and crisp.) But for each weaker performance like "Sezy Wayz," there are tracks like "They Can't See Your Good Side" which bring out the best in Bridge To A Legacy.

The biggest drawback to the album is that it does take some time to get used to Johnson's style of R&B and his delivery. Once you do (and it takes about two listens to truly appreciate it - at that point, you hear the similarities between the brothers), it makes the time spent a worthwhile investment.

Bridge To A Legacy is not always the easiest disc in teh genre to get through, but it does showcase an artist who now might be on the brink of earning the fame he should have had long ago.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Antone's Records, and is used for informational purposes only.