John Legend returns with a new album, collaborating with Philly soul veterans The Roots,
entitled Wake Up!, a collection of politically charged soul tunes from the ’60s and ’70s. Legend returns to the classic soul that is missing from so much of today’s R&B genre.
One of the constants on this album is the instrumentation of The Roots. On tracks such as the Curtis Mayfield cover “Hard Times” and “Our Generation,” Questlove and company bring it to a whole new level. One disappointment is the title track “Wake Up,” which sounds like a sappier “Seasons of Love.” Not even Common, who is featured on the track, can save the song.
Legend truly shines on the psychedelic “I Can’t Write Left Handed,” a touching ballad about a soldier losing his hand in the Vietnam War, which echoes the pain of the wars today.
At times, it seems that the driving funk of The Roots contradicts
Legend’s soft voice, especially on the track “Compared To What” causing the band to
outshine the singer. Legend’s delicate tenor conquers The Roots though, on the Marvin Gaye cover “Wholly Holy,” but its discrepancies in volume hold the
Wake Up! is a solid album but it definitely could have been better.
Legend and The Roots did a tremendous job choosing classics and new
material that hold strong messages. It truly is a breath of fresh air to hear songs like these in the landscape of today’s shallow R&B. This album can be seen as a stepping stone for Legend but listeners will remember The Roots more by the end.