This combination cuts a disc that awakes the soul roots of music legends.
One of the greatest soul singers of our generation teams up with one of the most original hip-hop acts around to produce a collaborative album that is more Cee-Lo and Dangermouse than Jay-Z & R. Kelly. John Legend, who last moved away from the piano for the successful 'Evolver' pushes the envelope even further with The Roots who are on fire this year already having dropped two other long players including the great album 'How I Got Over' and the incredible J Dilla instrumental tribute mixtape 'Dilla Joints'.
Speaking of fire John Legend appeared on the 'How I Got Over' track 'The Fire' and was sampled on the cut 'Doin' It Again' for more heat and if Legend has it, this second and first major collaboration with the Philly 'Hip-Hop/Soul band' is warming up to be a classic. The album is short, sweet and is so full of soulful soul. On this record Legend and his new house band (watch out Jimmy Fallon) cover some of the lesser known soul classics from the past, but classics all the same. Songs that sound as good as today as when the needle first dropped on them all those years back.
The pair put there own twist on things with this duet album but still keep the sound 'Instant Vintage' like the Raapheal Sadiq classic 'The Way I See It' which redefined modern soul last year. Too many R&B acts these days try to channel the greats only to leave listeners turning off but on 'Wake Up!' just like Saadiq, Legend and The Roots make this record sound more than just something your pops used to listen to, or your mom used to have on in the background. The music is so convincing you'll feel like your back in the 60's or listening to a classic record. As a matter of fact you are listening to a classic. This is more than just a throwback, it's a testament.
Each track is smooth, understated but potent at the same time. The tracks are slow burners but they let the light of the songs life shine at it's brightest. Legends distinct voice over The Roots array of instruments and versatile talent sounds vintage and timeless all at the same time. Whether it be slow guitar licks, laid back bass or Questlove drums, the ensemble hits every time with this homage piece. The last time The Roots backed a performer on an album is when they went 'Unplugged' with Jay-Z for MTV. They gave Mr. Carter a distinct, chilled live sound back then and now they give Mr. Legend the type of backing that makes for music that feels like this ensemble is live in living color in your living room.
Even when Black Thought raps it doesn't take anything away from this old soul. His always sharp and meaningful lyrics actually compliment the tracks he's on, almost poetic or Gil-Scott Heron-esque. Thought takes his mindset back to the way of nostalgia on this one too. As for the other guest stars, the before his time raps of Common, and soulful beauty of Toronto's Melanie Fiona evoke even more spirit on the lead single 'Wake Up Now' which features socially conscious verses about education, health care and the environment. Which are still relevant today with as Legend puts it 'No editing needed'. Also throughout the LP the poetic genius and interludes of Malik Yusef ties the album up in a perfect rhythm.
The record almost belongs to another era but is more than welcome today. Legend even updates the Bill Withers classic about the Vietnam war 'I Can't Write Left Handed' to draw comparisons to today's war in Iraq. Which again proves that soul music has always had so much more to say than just what's deep inside alone. Talking about having more to say, on this 11 minute number John gives a Sam Cooke esque long spoken introduction which both engages the audience and does justice to his subject matter. This record works so well as a soul album because this album is both musically and socially conscious.
This collaboration between two of the finest acts out today has provided us with something we can only dream isn't just a one off. Overall even after the first listen this album sounds instantly recognisable. Before it even hits the shelves it feels like something that's been around for a good while. It's kind of the same feeling when Legend's 'Ordinary People' first hit, but this piece is far from regular. G.O.O.D. music is back in the building so it's time to 'Get out on your dreams' once again. So when you wake up tomorrow morning and head out shopping trust me, you aint going to wanna sleep on one of the albums of the year. TIM DAVID HARVEY.