John Legend and the Roots: Wake Up!

Categories: Review Roundup
​The joyous craziness that was September 14 has, regretfully, passed us by. Worry not, however, as the albums that were released just a week ago will live forever so as long they are still being listened to somewhere.

September 21, then, has a tough act to follow, but that's not to say that it doesn't have its own slate of impressive new releases, lead by John Legend and the Roots' wonderful collaboration Wake Up!.

What The Roots can do for an encore is beyond me, given their own 2010 release How I Got Over is one of the year's strongest albums. As well, John Legend's 2008 release Evolver was his most critically acclaimed effort to date. 

So why not combine forces, dust off some older, more obscure R&B classics and introduce them to newer generations, as well as some older generations that weren't privy to the songs when they were first released? Such is the case for Wake Up!, twelve songs that combine Legend's remarkable vocals with the meticulously polished musicianship of The Roots -- something we got a preview of on The Roots tracks "Doin' It Again" and "The Fire" from How I Got Over. In lieu of only two songs, the two provide us with twelve this time around and the results are enjoyable, if not ambitious.

What the critics are saying:

Paste Magazine: The idea was born in the summer of 2008 when the nation's election-year politics had plunged into polemic discourse, but was then left to marinate so it would still resonate after the Obama honeymoon wore off. But Wake Up! is mostly apolitical: Legend and the Roots have stuck with more broad-appeal tracks here, like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Wake Up Everybody," Marvin Gaye's "Wholy Holy," Donny Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy." 

Turn It Up: This well-intentioned collection never surpasses the strong originals from which it draws. But in pointing young listeners back to the work of fine if mostly forgotten artists such as Baby Huey and Prince Lincoln, "Wake Up!" serves a worthy purpose. 

Rolling Stone: John Legend is modern R&B's classiest male singer, bringing old-fashioned suavity to hip-hop soul; the Roots are the world's most versatile (and maybe best) band. Together, they have made a brilliantly conceived and executed album, reviving music from the Nixon-era heyday of politically engaged R&B.

Spin: The results don't always play to the singer's melodic strengths; ?uestlove sounds a bit reined-in, too. Occasionally, though, they send up some serious sparks, as with a raw garage-funk take on Baby Huey's "Hard Times." 

Wake Up! is out now via Columbia.

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