John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up! (****)
album review for the skinny
Few musicians seem to make overtly political records these days: the Iraq war moved few songwriters to sing out, and despite its catastrophic effects, there’s not much rhymes with “credit crunch”. John Legend and The Roots’ Wake Up! is a covers record featuring new versions of old soul classics like Donny Hathaway’s Little Ghetto Boy and Mike James Kirkland’s Hang On In There, among others, updated with Black Thought verses, though these songs’ themes of faraway wars and local poverty need no updating. It’s beautifully produced, so when those two songs and sole original Shine develop into galas of piano, organ, strings and bass, it’s like listening to peak-era Stevie or Curtis. A lethargic Wholy Holy can't compare to Marvin Gaye's original, and a 12-minute take of Bill Withers' I Can't Write Left-Handed is a good three minutes over-wrought; but Wake Up!’s lush recordings make it a treat for any soul fan.