It was Summer of 2003. Thirty years earlier urban radio had been the delivery vehicle for one of the most creative periods of modern music, with artists ranging from Al Green to Donny Hathaway to Aretha Franklin delivering culture changing songs, both lyrically compelling and musically superb. Now those same stations seemed obsessed with the trivial and the profane. 50 Cent was rapping "In Da Club" while Nelly was taking his clothes off in "Hot In Herre." And the broadcasters who were once a unifying force for a generation were now aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator. The situation was so dire that at our website, SoulTracks.com, we had pretty much settled on becoming an "oldies" community, eternally focusing on the same artists and songs that provided the foundation for soul music three decades earlier.
Then in that Summer we received a CD in the mail from a young singer/songwriter named Angela Johnson. We knew her as the lead singer of the fun dance band Cooly's Hot Box, but that in no way prepared us for They Don't Know, her auspicious debut album on Purpose Records. An incredible blend of soul, jazz and Gospel, it brought the aura of classic 70s R&B completely up to date, influenced by but not a slave to the previous musical generation. It also became for us the window to a new world of soul, a modern subculture driven by incredibly talented young artists generally ignored by broadcast radio but making some of the most creative, important music of this decade. Artists who acknowledged the past, but did not pay homage, taking lessons learned and bringing them forward to the 21st century. And Angela Johnson quietly but assuredly had become one of their leaders.
She strengthened this position in 2005 with Got To Let It Go, another gem that showed not only her development as a singer, but also an explosion as a producer and arranger. And while hip-hop continued to be the darling of broadcast radio, it was the internet, television and even a Bose speaker campaign that found Got to Let It Go and made it a favorite in the growing new soul movement.
In the years since, fueled by the web and an emerging concert scene, soul music has risen again, bringing a rap-weary adult audience back to real music and creating a new generation of soul music stars. So it is fitting that Johnson is using this moment to unite some of the genre's best on her brilliant new album, A Woman's Touch. Gathering together the unofficial royalty of independent soul music, including Maysa, Rahsaan Patterson, Eric Roberson, Frank McComb, Gordon Chambers and more, Johnson, as producer, songwriter and arranger, has created an instant greatest hits for an entire genre.
It should not be ignored that, unlike the male dominated hitmaking machines of the 60s and 70s, A Woman's Touch relies on Johnson's unerring feminine perspective to create an album of which Berry Gordy, Jr. or Gamble and Huff would be proud. And by focusing the disc on her indie soul counterparts, Johnson has unwittingly caused the spotlight to shine back on her as the mastermind, an inspired and inspiring chanteuse who has quietly become a truly original artist carrying the torch of soul music into the 21st Century.