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JOHN LEGEND Once Again
 

JOHN LEGEND Once Again

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From the opening organ line on "Save Room" you'll know what you're in for on John Legend's latest CD, Once Again. This is a record full of references, some blatant and some subtle, to a soul music heritage that the composer and performer embraces. Gabor Szabo's "Stormy" is the organ quote, and the coolest thing about it is how well it works. The keyboardist, singer and songwriter, John Legend scored a Grammy for his debut, Get Lifted. He's been heard, before and since, on the tracks of a who's who of smart, stylish and musical R&B artists, including Lauryn Hill, Kanye West, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Now, he's putting all his stuff together and bringing it out for the world to see. It's all working out pretty well.

Kanye West, he executive produced along with Legend, is influential on "Heaven," a clear reference to/reworking of "Heaven Knows." The hip-hop groove and the soul feel work together in a whole yesterday/today bag. "Stereo" is one of the stand out cuts on Once Again. The drum track is fierce. The vocal is way cool. The combination of the two is fresh. This is what Legend does best; melds the history and the future into a very catchy look at the now. John Legend has plenty of time in as a studio cat and is an Ivy League grad to boot. He's refuses to be "typed" and keeps bringing fresh ideas to his music. Every record is different in subtle ways. Once Again is worth checking out from every angle.

T.S.O.P. is back with "Each Day Gets Better", and Legend offers hints at his falsetto abilities. His exceptional style at the keys is never in doubt. Legend is in love with each of these retro grooves, and he knows how to keep them fresh and new. The Philly soul deal was full of lush strings and choirs of angels, and Legend mixes this with his silky baritone and some smooth horns. Each cut gets better and better.

Legend likes to play the piano, and he's a joy to listen to. He has a whole Paul Simon Still Crazy vibe on "Again." This cut has lots in common with his first record, and you'll be glad he hasn't forgotten this approach. John Legend is enough of a musician to lay down a tough groove without overstating it. He uses the piano, and his deep gospel roots, to keep the rhythm feel going, even without drums. Legend reprises this tune later. It's one of two songs he takes a couple of shots at on the CD.

Mostly, John Legend is stylish and clean, without lots of raw emotion. He builds a couple of tracks to the raw nerve point, but mostly keeps it cool and romantic, rather than pleading, beggin' throbbing. When he does, it's a welcome dramatic change. John Legend is an understated, under appreciated, over-the-top talent. Once Again is a visit to the past and the future of R&B.

By Dave Morgan
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