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Legends has solid studio debut

Becca Saunders | Thursday, February 24, 2005

Alicia Keys and Lauren Hill have some new competition, but it is not from another female artist. No, this is a fresh face of R&B and hip-hop. John Legend has grown in popularity in the past months following the release of his first album on Columbia records, “Get Lifted.” The album has been a moderate success both commercially and critically, but it deserves all the praise it receives. “Get Lifted” is an even mix of slow and fast R&B songs with a touch of hip-hop and a bit of soul. Legend’s textured voice covers a vast vocal range and his strong sense for melody and music composition is consistently shown throughout the 14 songs on “Get Lifted.” Legend has always had big plans for his future. This is most obviously shown by his choice for his last name, which was formerly Stephens and has since been changed to Legend. An English major from the University of Pennsylvania, Legend spent nine years as the music and choir director at Bethel A.M.E. Church outside Philadelphia at one point early in his career, according to his Web site. Legend speaks of his musical formation in the context of gospel singing. “I always loved the feeling when people responded to my singing and playing, so I was already making little gospel records in high school,” he said. “I was ambitious and just loved being onstage.” “Get Lifted” shows the spectrum of Legend’s musical talent. The first half of the album is generally faster, with more of a hip-hop feel. A couple of songs showcase this hip-hop element more than others, particularly “Number One” (featuring Kayne West) and “I Can Change” (featuring Snoop Dogg). Although those songs are the heaviest in hip-hop influence, they are also two of the best songs on the album. Conversely, some of the remaining best songs on “Get Lifted” are in the second half of the predominantly slow songs. “Ordinary People” and “Stay With You” are both slow songs that basically feature Legend and a piano, and those two elements are entirely enough to constitute musically, lyrically and melodically strong songs.While the balance between Legend’s ability to create both fast and slow R&B is clear on the very balanced “Get Lifted,” one of the high points of the album comes in the very soulful, “It Don’t Have To Change” (featuring the Stephens Family). Backed by the voices of his own family, the gospel and soul sound of “It Don’t Have To Change” makes it a stand out song on “Get Lifted.”Lyrically, the album is above average. Legend falls into the trap of cliché lyrics at times, such as in “Alright,” a faster song on the album when he sings, “Good Lord, you got body for days.” At other points in the album, Legend redeems himself with stronger lyrics such as in “Refuge (When It’s Cold Outside)” when he sings more philosophically, “You know and I know / Friends come and friends go / Storms rise and winds blow / But one thing I know for sure …” and he goes into a description of a relationship that comes from a much deeper place than a “body for days.” Not every song on “Get Lifted” is great, such as the weaker “Alright” and “Let’s Get Lifted Again,” but the album is certainly a strong beginning for any artist. Legend may have some areas to improve, but overall “Get Lifted” is a solid album with a unique male R&B sound. He’s no legend yet, but he just may be on his way to becoming one.