Wake Up! John Legend & The Roots (CD)
The 1960s and 70s were a time of great social change in America. The Civil Rights Movement was pushing for racial equality, and young people of all races were speaking out against the war in Vietnam. All this anger and frustration led to boundless artistic proliferation: some of the 'protest' songs of the time remain among the best examples of folk and soul music.
It's this latter category that John Legend and The Roots focus on in Wake Up!, a collection of covers of mostly little remembered tracks. The songs' messages swing between the barely contained anger of Hard Times and the funktastic Compared to What, the call to action of Wake Up Everybody, and the hopefulness of Hang On In There and the reggae-smothered Humanity (Love The Way It Should Be).
Legend's velvety voice may not automatically seem suited to revolution songs but, combined with the intricate arrangements provided by The Roots and guest artists' up-to-date rapping, each song is respectfully given a modern makeover. It keeps the original message and vibe intact, yet updates the sound for a contemporary audience.
Some people may argue that recreating songs that were born of such a revolutionary period shows a lack of understanding for the struggles of the time. But these songs still speak to us; inequality still exists. And besides, good music is good music, irrelevant of what's going on around us. And this is amazingly good music.