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John Legend and the Roots: Wake Up!

Columbia

Social consciousness is back in vogue, though typically relegated to soul's indie side. Major label artists John Legend and the Roots try to bring the mainstream a spit-shined version of this quiet movement with material we've heard before. Produced with good intentions, and sometimes performed with enough gut-bucket heart to match, the recordings sometime feel dusty due to their reliance on nostalgia. Harold Melvin's title track and Donny Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy" are indeed timeless, but they voice the concerns of a bygone generation. For instance, the Vietnam protest "I Can't Write Left-Handed" benefits from Questlove's performance, but Legend can only approximate Bill Withers' blues by singing powerfully instead of knowingly. They stand on much better footing when performing originals like the Legend-penned "Shine" with less reverence and more authenticity. (3 out of 5 stars)