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Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010

John Legend & The Roots

Wake Up! (Columbia)

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Zeitgeists are difficult things to catch, so it takes a bit of hubris for John Legend to update a selection of socially conscious, era-defining funk and soul numbers from the ’60s and ’70s with a few MCs and a dose of neo-soul sheen and expect it to, as the liner notes put it, “ignite the passions and the minds of millions.”

That aside, he does have the ideal backing band in The Roots, supremely talented musicians who ably support Legend’s buttery croon. Together they tackle the work of legends like Bill Withers, Eugene McDaniels and Marvin Gaye with obvious passion and respect. But while it’s consistently enjoyable, it’s seldom powerful.

It’s perfect for listeners discerning enough to want pop that’s sophisticated and earnest, but who aren’t too keen on things like surprises or bold originality. It probably won’t “inspire a generation,” but if it inspires a few people to delve into the classics, that’s good enough for me.