By David Werther.
John Legend and the Roots, Wake Up (Columbia Records, 2010)
Wake Up opens with Curtis Mayfield’s “Hard Times,” followed by Eugene McDaniel’s “Compared to What.” The former begins with an aching vocal, “so many hard times,” then launches into a funky groove that pulls the listener into the world of a lonely, scared man where “there’s no love to be found.” “Compared to What” ratchets up the anger as the focus turns from an alienated man to a war-hungry, greedy society, and from fright and alienation to outrage and anger. The next song, the title cut, channels this outrage into a call for compassionate service. These songs — like all but one of the cuts on the album — are songs the Roots’ ?uestlove (no typo) chose from the 70s. They convey a gritty realism about the injustices of our society, but also provide the listener with more than enough hope and vision to turn from despair to activism. The album masterly blends soul, gospel and hip-hop into an inspiring wake-up call.