Saturday, 28 May 2011

Syl Johnson - Is It Because I'm Black (1970)

"Is It Because I'm Black" is yet another candidate for the "Best Album I Never Heard" prize. At the time of release, Syl Johnson had been living and recording in the Chicago area for several years. Like many black artists of the time, his writing often took on social issues such as poverty and equality, and with this album, these themes became a unifying focus, to the extent that "Is It Because I'm Black" is considered by some to be the first black, political concept album, and a precursor to such classics as Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Sly & The Family Stone's "There's A Riot Going On." The title track is a drawn out, bluesy, gritty groover, with Syl pleading the case for his race. The song reached #11 on the R&B charts, and was also a minor hit on the Pop charts. "Concrete Jungle," another highlight that broke the R&B top 30, draws parallels between the black experience and that of Native Americans, with the difference being location of their reservations. The album closes strongly with "Right On," a rambling, energetic funk masterpiece. Definitely worth a listen, if you can find it.

Album info. on Discogs:

Available as part of 2-for-1 CD on Amazon:

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