Syleena Johnson – Chapter 5: Underrated | Album Review

Syleena Johnson is a soul singer. Sincerely. The saucy siren is back with her sixth album, the fifth in her book of love, life, loss and resilience: Chapter 5: Underrated. Produced entirely by Chicago-based hit-making team, Toxic Productions, and Syleena herself, Underrated is what Johnson’s fans have come to expect from the Midwest diva – a fantastic voyage.

A master of her craft and vision, Johnson’s music is intimate and inclusive. Her songs feel like a heart-to-heart with your best girlfriend, your favorite meal, and a Saturday morning cuddle with your lover, recapping the racy night before… plus a little bit more.

Always captivating, Johnson’s entire career has been conceptualized. Known for her inspirational, red-letter intros (the best of which appears on Chapter 2: The Voice), Underrated keeps the tradition going. Johnson comes flying out of the gates with the punching intro of the same name featuring AK (of Chicago Hip-Hop royalty, Do or Die). Strumming the track with a raspy chant, Johnson propels us right into the middle of the story. She tells us exactly what she’s done, where she is in her life, and, on the next track, who she is: “A Boss.” Dominating another pounding beat, Johnson is on a megaphone promoting an equal love between two winners and announcing her deal-breakers upfront. If you aren’t successful or on your way there, don’t bother to apply. She’s on to the next.

Satisfied that she’s found a boss beau and still bouncing on bumping beats, Johnson nimbly sings that her love will never “Fade Away.” Her edgy delivery over what sounds like video game car engines is an aggressive proposition of romance. She gives you the feeling that what she’s got is worth it, and apparently it’s steaming hot. From the smirkingly visceral “Bad Person,” the sensual and satiny “Little Things” (a duet with Illinois stand-out Malone), and the [literal] head games being played on “The Champ,” Johnson has not skimped on the super-sexy R&B (most prominently show-cased on Chapter 3: The Flesh) her fans have grown to love.

Although rife with smoldering moments, Underrated, like the previous chapters, tells the whole story. Johnson explores the solemn anxiety at the onset of relational drama in “Like Thorns” and rocks the listener back and forth through the subtle changes of a love that’s slipping away on the haunting groove “My Shoes”; a last attempt to explain to an insecure partner that the pressure is just too much. Johnson finally puts the egotistical lover in front of the firing squad on “Go Head.”

Syleena Johnson ft. Tweet – “Angry Girl”:

A breezy “woman-to-woman” sing-along is arguably the best cut on the album. “Angry Girl” (a duet with R&B songbird Tweet) confronts those women who may be clinging to the bitter pill of heartbreak, admonishing them to heal and “learn to smile” so love will find them all again. Johnson always has this undercurrent of triumph in her music, also showcased on the soaring ballad, “Stonewall.”

Another gem is the charming and cheeky “Label Me,” where Johnson calls out naysayers and gossip-mongers, offering up boastful, fun folk-funk over a blues guitar.

Chapter 5: Underrated is a polished and fresh take on Johnson’s familiar sound. For those missing the stories and sentiment of Soul and R&B, Syleena Johnson is here to help save the day.

Syleena Johnson – Chapter V: Underrated
Released: September 27, 2011
Label: Shanachie Records
Buy: iTunes UK / iTunes US / Amazon UK / Amazon US

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