R & B vocalist Syl Johnson first hit the national charts in 1967, but with his series of singles on the Memphis-based Hi label in the 70s he secured his place in R & B history: on these he augmented his trademark muscular flamboyance with a deeply affecting hard-won tenderness enhanced by the flawless artistry of the Hi rhythm section and producer Willie Mitchell. In recent years he’s fallen somewhat from popular consciousness, but his new CD on Delmark reunites him with the Hi rhythm section, and the results are nothing short of astonishing. The Hi musicians sound as if they’ve rediscovered the joys of soul, and their aim is as true as ever. The horns–a crew of top-notch Chicagoans–lay down riffs unerringly, and Johnson’s voice exploits his full emotional range–sexy swagger, heartrending vulnerability, and always that cathartic spiritual uplift that distinguishes the greatest soul music. The disk has already been pegged as one of the must-hears for 1994-’95. Johnson has lost none of the focused dedication that’s long been his hallmark. Sweet soul music lives! Saturday, 9:30 PM, B.L.U.E.S. Etcetera, 1124 W. Belmont; 525-8989.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.