September 23, 2010

V4YS Album Review - John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up!

The Roots never rest do they?
After their brilliant Lp "How I Got Over" released earlier this year, their participation in David Murray's original live project around the history and legacy of the Black Panthers (mentionned on this blog recently), here they come again with another amazing production.
"Wake Up!" is the result of a collaboration with soul singer/producer John Legend, and is all about that powerful socially-conscious 60's/70's R&B sound that both John and the band cherish so much.
The album is mostly a collection of covers from legendary artisits like Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone or Marvin Gaye or from several overlooked names like Les McCann, Baby Huey, Ernie Hines, Harold Melvin or Mike Kirkland.
The Roots' orchestration is sober but funky enough to rejuvenate these classics (what a great gospel's touch on Nina Simone's "I wish I know how it would feel to be free") while respecting their musical atmosphere. Black Thought and Mali Yusef  bring their energetic hip-hop touch on a few tracks which fits really well with the protest spirit of most of these songs.
On his side John Legend moves away from his usual crooner-sphere to add the right touch of rawness to his singing. From warm soulful parts to more aggressive, almost spoken-word, cuts or even exotic areas like his splendid reggae interpretation of "Humanity", his vocal register's depth is impressive.
Let's also mention the "young-Michael"-like performance of R&B singer Melanie Fiona in one of the two original tracks of the album, called "Wake Up Everybody" (streaming below).
A highly-recommended record for those who love this essential period in the history of Black Music!

For reference and comparison please find below the album tracklisting, for the covers there are streaming links to the original versions :
"Hard Times" (cover of Baby Huey
"Compared To What" (cover of Les McCann
"Our Generation" (cover of Ernie Hines
"Little Ghetto Boy" (cover of Donny Hathaway
"Hang On In There" (cover of  Mike James Kirkland)
"Humanity" (cover of  Prince Lincoln)
"Wholy Holy" (cover of Marvin Gaye
"I can"t write left-handed" (cover of  Bill Withers)
"I wish I knew how it would feel to be free" (cover of Nina Simone
"Shine" - original track
"Wake Up Everybody" - original track

Après la sortie récente de leur excellent dernier album "How I Got Over" puis leur participation à l'ambitieux projet live du saxophoniste David Murray consacré aux Black Panthers, les infatigables Roots sont de retour avec le chanteur et producteur R&B John Legend pour la sortie de "Wake Up!" album hommage au "son" R&B/Soul engagé politiquement des années 60/70. 
En plus de deux superbes nouveaux morceaux soul (dont on jurerait qu'ils ont été écrits il y a une quarantaine d'années) ce disque  propose des reprises d'artistes légendaires tels que Donny Hathaway, Nina Simone ou Marvin Gaye mais aussi de figures plus obscures telles que Les McCann, Baby Huey, Ernie Hines, Harold Melvin or Mike Kirkland.
Avec des orchestrations sobres et une qualité de production irréprochable, The Roots s'approprient  avec finesse ces classiques en les éclairant d'un jour nouveau. 
Leur version carrément gospel du "I wish I know how it would feel to be free" de Nina Simone illustre parfaitement leur approche, à la fois respectueuse des originaux et subtilement novatrice. 
De son côté John Legend sort de son registre habituel très "crooner" pour muscler un peu son jeu. D'interprétations très soulful à d'autres plus aggressives à la limite du "spoken-word" en passant par une splendide reprise reggae du morceau "Humanity" de Prince Lincoln, son éventail de possibilités est particulièrement bluffant.
Ce disque ravira tous les amoureux de cette période essentielle de la musique black américaine, à ne pas rater!
Ci-dessus streaming de "Wake Up Everybody", l'un des deux titres originaux de l'album, ainsi que le tracklisting avec liens vers les versions originales des reprises.

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