Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NEW SOUL FROM OLD; the Best Release of the Year, John Legend & the Roots' Album of Songs of Classic Soul from the Sixties and Seventies Is Spearheading a Revival

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

NEW SOUL FROM OLD; the Best Release of the Year, John Legend & the Roots' Album of Songs of Classic Soul from the Sixties and Seventies Is Spearheading a Revival

Article excerpt

Byline: David Smyth SOUND CHECK

HOW does an album of soul covers from the Sixties and Seventies end up as one of the most vital releases of 2010? The dusty funk and 40-year-old lyrics of Wake Up! by John Legend & The Roots turn out to be more relevant and better-sounding than the most up-to-the-minute pop of today. It leads a small but impressive charge of new soul albums that stand tall next to the greatest period for that music.

For their first collaboration, singer and pianist Legend and the Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, led by their afro-sporting drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, were looking for the songs with the strongest messages rather than the usual old favourites, though strong tunes are also in plentiful supply.

There's Hard Times by Baby Huey & The Babysitters, in which Legend outlines a tough life "Eatin' Spam and Oreos and drinkin' Thunderbird, baby" over urgent horns and taut funk guitar. An inspiring take on the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes ballad Wake Up Everybody has guest singer Melanie Fiona urging the teachers to "teach a new way", the doctors to "make the old people well" and the builders to "build a new land". The raging 12-minute cover of Bill Withers' I Can't Write Left-Handed concerns an injured soldier communicating from Vietnam, and features an epic guitar solo that proves this soul band can rock, too.

Covering unpopular wars, extreme poverty, a hopeful future -- this is political music that could have been written in America yesterday. Put together by these staunch Barack Obama supporters in the wake of his election, it reflects black America's realisation that Obama in power is not an instant fix for everything. Mike James Kirkland's Hang on in There, for example, and Donny Hathaway's Little Ghetto Boy, which declares: "The world is a cruel place to live and it ain't gonna change" before concluding: "Everything has got to get better."

However, while it's the lyrics that give the album the depth of interest, it's the music that makes it a true success.

Legend sings with a rich expressiveness throughout, doing much more than just impersonating the greats and even handling Marvin Gaye's lush Wholy Holy with class. …

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