How John Legend Grew

 

John Legend is coming to Bellingham? I’ll be there.

Legend became a world class soul man when he stopped being a ” nice guy” and worked on being a decent person. The early records are bagged down by the type of affable, cliched come on’s you hear from a lot of affable twenty something dudes. What separated him from such sensitive sociopaths as Eric Benet is that, in his more melancholy songs, he showed the listener he understood the meaning of the word no. Listening to them now, one can see why records like “Get Lifted” and “Once Again” had their audience. At times clueless, but basically very sweet? Every block in America had at least one John Legend.

It is on this album, IMO, where Legend becomes something serious, and to me it starts with his register. When he sings in that low tenor he is a prototypical Mr. Smooth; and though the layperson who listens to him might like most of what comes out of his mouth, they know it before he finishes his sentences. Here, his voice crackles, is unsettled, and sounds lithe enough to let you know that his interpretation is his god damm own. It fits the mood of “Wake Up”, his album of misanthropic and gorgeous covers of misanthropic and gorgeous civil rights protest songs. Legend’s upper register-both a near howl and controlled at the same time-inhabits each and every one of these classics, and the portrait it gives-of a Black man living in an era of Stand Your Ground and Stop and Frisk, of someone aware of how his experience isn’t that far away from the “bad old days”- is one of the most resonant I have heard on an album.

“Love In The Future” is pretty fucking good too. It works as both as a wedding album with teeth and a thesis on the O’jays classic song ” Now That We Found Love( What Are We Gonna Do With It).”.

So, yeah. I’ll be there.

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