The intention behind John Legend & The Roots’ Wake Up is most apparent on an 11-minute track that begins with the singer introducing Bill Withers “I Can’t Write Left Handed.”
“Bill Withers recorded this song at the end of the Vietnam War. As I record this now, America, the land of peace and prosperity, is in the middle of two wars. … War is hell. It always has been and always will be.”
Part history, part sermon, Wake Up! is a bridge between two eras with similar issues: connecting Legend and The Roots’ listeners with the songs and social consciousness of the 1960s and ‘70s. The music is mostly unchanged, save for featured performances by artists including Melanie Fiona, Common and CL Smooth.
Despite its title, the selections on Wake Up! make the album a somewhat sleepy one. But the instrumentation is divine, with The Roots playing steel drums, horns and organ on reggae singer Lincoln Thompson’s Humanity (Love the Way It Should Be) and wielding funky guitar, saxophone and hi-hat on Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ Compared to What.
Legend, known to deliver elegant soul music, including Ordinary People and Save Room, gets unbuttoned on the bluesy Hard Times featuring Roots lead man Black Thought. His mellow tone is a perfect partner to the dusky saxophone on Marvin Gaye’s Wholy Holy.
Shine, the album’s only new song, is a sunny look at future generations and a sweet end to a well-intended album.
Photo: John Legend
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT
Legend absolutely captures the aching emotion of Bill Withers’ I Can’t Write Left Handed, written from the perspective of a soldier who’s lost a limb in war.