In 1993, a 57-year-old Syl Johnson
made a long overdue return to the studio with Back in the Game
, his first album since the early '80s. Various rappers (including the Geto Boys, Hammer, and the Wu-Tang Clan) had been sampling Johnson
's classic 1960s and '70s recordings, and learning that younger artists had thought enough of his work to sample it was one of the main things that inspired the singer to start recording again. "Inspired" is definitely a word that describes Johnson
's performances on this CD, which unites him with the legendary Hi Rhythm Section of the '70s. Joined by drummer Howard "Bulldog" Grimes and the Hodges brothers (guitarist Mabon, bassist Leroy, and organist/pianist Charles), Johnson
delivers one of the strongest albums of his career. The Chicago-based singer emphasizes the type of down-home soul he had favored at Hi, and he is as passionate as ever on "Dipped in the Water" (which features his daughter Syleena Thompson
), "I Will Rise Again," and "Ghetto Woman." Another high point of the album is a sweaty remake of Al Green's "Take Me to the River," which Johnson
had first recorded in 1975. Although the Chicagoan moves into 12-bar blues territory on "All of Your Love" and Roosevelt Sykes' "Driving Wheel," it must be stressed that the majority of songs on this album are soul rather than blues. This is an R&B album first and foremost, and a fine one at that.