Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

John Legend & The Roots - Wake Up! (2010)

The little man on my right shoulder wants me to call this the best covers album I've ever heard; the little man on my left shoulder is telling me to contain my hyperbole. At the very least, this is one of the top releases of 2010. Inspired by the election of Barack Obama and upset about the wars our nation is engaged in, John Legend and The Roots got together to cover lesser-known socially-conscious songs from the '60s and 70s. I'm not the biggest John Legend fan; he never does a bad job, but I don't think is voice is as soulful as he does. However, The Roots reestablish themselves as the funkiest, most flexible band around, easily switching from funk to soul to gospel to R&B to pop to reggae. Without The Roots, this project would have flopped; they should get top billing. All this AND they kick ass five nights a week as the house band for Jimmy Fallon. This is a fantastic album - the only downside is that eventually the listener becomes aware that these songs are, unfortunately, still relevant 40 years after they were written.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #8 (Oct 9, 2010)

Tracks: While most of these hit, there are a few clunkers. My favorites include the funky Compared To What, Wake Up Everybody, Our Generation, Hang On In There, and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. It takes courage to cover Donny Hathaway, and the cover of Little Ghetto Boy doesn't quite measure up to the rest of the album. Also, Wholly Holy just proves that Legend shouldn't try to cover Marvin Gaye. Ever. I'm afraid to comment on the only original piece on the disc, the closer, Shine. This was written by Legend for the psuedo-documentary Waiting For Superman and I'm afraid this posting will quickly get off topic. The show-stopper on this disc is the superb take on Bill Wither's epic anti-war anthem, I Can't Write Left Handed. Starting softly and calmly, this song continually builds for 6 ½ minutes until guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas rips into a face-melting two minute solo that puts Legend in the corner. Then the band brings it down before revving it back up for another killer guitar solo. The whole thing lasts 11 ½ minutes and I'm just drained at the end. This track alone is worth the price of the CD.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Growing up in west Texas in the '60s and '70s, I rarely saw black people, much less talked to them. The only way I knew of civil rights was through music like this and media coverage. Believe it or not, there were actually radio stations that played soul music in the oil patch.

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