Thursday, March 5, 2009

Syleena Johnson @ Club 618 Tonight

By Evan Rytlewski
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I'm not sure how this slid below my radar, but one of my favorite contemporary R&B singers, Syleena Johnson, is in town tonight for a 9 p.m. concert at Club 618 (618. N. Water St.) Tickets are $20, or $50 for the VIP treatment.

Johnson's first taste of fame came entirely by accident. Kanye West recruited her to sing the hook on his second single, "All Falls Down," when he failed to secure the rights to the Lauryn Hill sample he wrote the song around. Johnson is a more traditional, sultry-voiced R&B singer than Hill, but her both voices share a similar mix of strength and vulnerability.

Commercial success has been ellusive since that breakthrough. She followed up that single with a slick 2004 album, Chapter 3: The Flesh, that was loaded with contributions from her Chicago-area friends (West, Common, R. Kelly and Twista), as well as some other industry heavyweights (Fabolous, Anthony Hamilton, Jermaine Durpi). It didn't perform great, and she was dropped from Jive Records before releasing her latest, Chapter 4: Labor Pains, which suffers for lack of a budget (no big-name cameos or top-shelf production this time around).

So Johnson isn't really a rising star anymore, but she's got a killer voice, a formidable songbook and a knack for really blunt, "better call Tyrone"-like lyrics that should send the crowd into a frenzy. It should be a great show; sorry I fell asleep on the wheel at this one.

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