Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One of 2010's memorable discs

It's early yet to be doing best-of countdowns for this year, but I would like to nominate "Wake Up!" by Philly products John Legend and The Roots for consideration. While it breathes new hip-hop life into forgotten soul/R&B nuggets of the '60s and '70s, it also shines a spotlight on the inspiring, articulate, generational social consciousness of that era that Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, The Black Eyed Peas, etc. sorely and distinctly lack.
This album hits a home run just by putting Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' "Wake Up Everybody" and Les McCann and Eddie Harris' "Compared to What" on the same disc.
Marvin Gaye gets the remake treatment on "Wholly Holy," ditto on Donny Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy" and Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free."
The tricky part with soul is there's a fine line between emoting, and over the top hamminess. Legend crosses that line on an overlong version of Bill Withers' harrowing and heart-sinking yarn about a war wounded veteran, "I Can't Write Left Handed."
Legend's song "Shine" from the "Waiting for Superman" soundtrack closes the album, and ends with a spirit of optimism to maybe get the current generation thinking more in terms of unity. It's still not as good as those old school songs though.
No doubt about it -- The Roots are more than just the Jimmy Fallon houseband! And although Legend's a Grammy-winner, this might be the most interesting thing he's done.
The album was conceived in the summer of 2008 before Obama got elected. For whatever reason, they sat on it till this September. The release of an album like "Wake Up!"would have been much more appropriate during the Bush Administration.
www.johnlegend.com has a nice performance of "Hard Times" (originally by an act called Baby Huey and the Babysitters) which features rapper Black Thought.

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