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Performer: John Legend
Distributor: Sony BMG
Notes: If John Legend hadn't made his name working with Kanye West, producing Jay-Z, and playing on Lauryn Hill's classic THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL, his 2004 studio debut GET LIFTED would have still established him as a true frontrunner in the world of R&B. His studio follow-up, 2006's ONCE AGAIN, is better than its predecessor; the music is still steeped in vintage 1960s- and '70s-flavored R&B, but Legend's songcraft, productions, and nuanced singing are even more appealing. Most impressively (especially for someone who swapped his birth name for "Legend"), the music is remarkably understated, subtle, and textured. The cool-toned groove of the album's lead-off single, "Save Room," is a case in point, as is the beautiful, mid-tempo "Show Me," which floats on intricate electric guitar patterns and swelling strings. The vibe is deep on ONCE AGAIN, and beautifully restrained; the productions are contemporary and tinged with hip-hop aesthetic, yet they're never overbearing. Horns, piano, tasteful strings, and a pulsing rhythm section provide a sweet canvas for Legend's seductive croon and falsetto swoops. ONCE AGAIN is a true soul record, and Legend is rapidly gaining on his competitors as the king of the neo-soul mountain.
Rolling Stone (p.70) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[A] bigger, better follow-up, which blends lush, elegant band arrangements with stylish synth parts and cool samples." Rolling Stone (p.107) - Ranked #35 in Rolling Stone's "The Top 50 Albums Of 2006" -- "Legend goes from Nat 'King' Cole to Jeff Buckley on a dime." Spin (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Like LIFTED, ONCE AGAIN offers a mesmerizing blend of canny sample science and Stevie Wonder live-band R&B." Entertainment Weekly (p.71) - "[Legend] conducts a songcraft master class....Musically, the CD is satisfying enough to ensure further Grammy acclaim." -- Grade: B Q (p.134) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "It's soulful..and brims with spiritual joy. It's luxurious." Q (p.120) - Ranked #49 in Q Magazine's "100 Greatest Albums of 2006" -- "[A]n ideally poised crossover album." Vibe (p.166) - "Legend ups the ante musically....He's beginning to loosen up his vocals...honing his signature vibrato." Mojo (Publisher) (p.104) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "His most impressive skill is echoing the laid-back charm of Bill Withers and the melodic instincts of Stevie Wonder..."
Though it appears that he emerged fully-formed in 2004 from the mind of Kanye West, John Legend got his start on the East Coast in the mid 1990s as John Stephens, a promising neo-soul piano-player and songwriter. After he garnered the attention of Lauryn Hill--on whose 1998 classic Legend played--many high-profile studio gigs followed, including a pivotal one co-writing and playing on Kanye West's smash debut. West, impressed with Stephens's abilities, signed him (as "John Legend") to his production company and co-produced his debut album, GET LIFTED, a soul-hip-hop hybrid that wowed critics and listeners alike. Thus rechristened, a Legend was born.
Also Appears On:
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Babyface Badu, Erykah Franklin, Aretha Green, Al (Vocals) Hathaway, Donny Jean, Wyclef Kravitz, Lenny Maxwell (R&B) Prince Winwood, Steve Wonder, Stevie
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