Wake Up! (Columbia)

As a hip-hop fan, John Legend favors intelligence over bravado. Check out his terrific collaborations with Lauryn Hill and André 3000 for proof. On the lovely Wake Up!, Legend hooks up with rap's smartest ensemble for an all-star jam session — and what a jam session it is, with aching harmonies and tasteful grooves supplied by the Roots. Legend may wear dapper suits, but he sounds like an old-school gritty soul singer. His take on Donny Hathaway's "Little Ghetto Boy" strikes an unmistakable emotional chord. The rollicking soul-funk hybrid "Our Generation" could have been recorded in 1975, but "Wake Up Everybody" (which was originally recorded in 1975 by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, with Teddy Pendergrass on vocals) sounds like a call for peace in the tumultuous Obama era. Throughout the album these expert musicians never miss a step. Roots MC Black Thought lends his distinctly raspy voice to a few songs, livening things up with his brainy showmanship. Still, Wake Up!'s somewhat conservative vibe prevents it from reaching the highs of the Roots' summer release, How I Got Over. Nonetheless, it's nifty background music.  M.T. Richards

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