Monday, October 4, 2010

John Legend & the Roots

Add Date: September 28 

Artist: John Legend & the Roots 

Album: Wake Up! 

Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Columbia 

Genre: Soul, R&B, hip hop 

Comments: No one's ever doubted that John Legend has one of the best voices in modern American music, and for his latest endeavor, he's gained a political focus--Wake Up! is a socially conscious record that he made in the spirit of '60s and '70s African-American music--and he's enlisted The Roots to help. (Calling them a backing band surely wouldn't be accurate, as ?uestlove produced the LP and Black Thought raps on a handful of tracks.) As Legend explains the impetus for the record: "We live in a time of seemingly unlimited possibility and groundbreaking, historic change, yet we're also in the midst of a deep recession and war. Poverty and disillusionment still afflict a large portion of humankind. This intense brew of possibility and persistent poverty, optimism and despair, activism and unrest, and global connectedness and intractable global conflicts is the reason Wake Up! exists."

Pop music crossing over into social activism has the potential to become cheesy, if not downright pretentious, but that never happens here. The songs are well-selected, from the upbeat, soul-infused first half of the record, to the gospel-leaning side B. Try Curtis Mayfield's "Hard Times," the Nina Simone classic "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" or "Wake Up Everybody," from the '70s R&B group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

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