Syleena Johnson : Chapter 1: Love, Pain And Forgiveness

Syleena evokes memories of the greats on 'Chapter 1...'...

Before her, in this contemporary renaissance of soul, only Angie Stone (and, to a lesser extent, Kelly Price) has alluded, vocally, to the velvet authority of Shirley Brown, Aretha Franklin, voices that were almost two big and wide and deep for music itself. And voices that dripped emotion, memories of pain, stories of survival. Syleena Johnson, with huge riffs, gut-wrenched improvs and much wild and wistful wailing, brings all of this into play on this first instalment of her love-life’s musical manifesto.

‘Chapter 1…’ charts the changing emotions of a woman surviving, sometimes not, within a difficult relationship. Even in the full-bodied opening melody ‘I Am Your Woman’ (penned by R Kelly and preceded by a mesmeric, orchestral intro that seems to lift like a veil onto the LP’s troubled, graceful landscape), there is a sense of doom in the clause “until we split up or something”.

By the time ‘Baby I’m So Confused’ sails sadly in, there is definite discontent, a groundlessness that turns to despair when the momentary acoustic relief of ‘You Got Me Spinnin” is followed by a limp and lilting protest against domestic violence, ‘Hit On Me’. The sense of misery is palpable (most of these songs were actually written by Syleena instead of crying), but ‘Chapter 1…’ never manages to lose its hold on melody, on the grain and the texture of song.

And as a result, though it is dangerously personal and darkly emotive, the listener, too, will stay right with her until Syleena rejoins herself at ‘The End’.

Diana Evans