Picks and Pans Review: John Legend

UPDATED 02/07/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/07/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Get Lifted
R&B
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Given the immodest last name he chose for himself (his real name is John Stephens), neo-soul newcomer John Legend, 26, clearly hopes to go down as one of the R&B greats. To that end he has hooked up with Grammy-nominated rapper-producer Kanye West, himself no paragon of humility, who tapped Legend as the first artist released on his GOOD (Getting Out Our Dreams) label. And, with West producing four tracks, the singer-songwriter and pianist flies high on Get Lifted, bringing to mind such bona fide soul legends as Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway and Al Green. Legend—who paid his dues as a sought-after keyboardist and background vocalist for such stars as Alicia Keys ("You Don't Know My Name"), Jay-Z ("Encore") and Lauryn Hill ("Everything Is Everything") as well as West ("Jesus Walks")—steps up front impressively.

Indeed, this disc's heartfelt highlight, "Ordinary People," demonstrates that he is anything but one of those. With Legend accompanied only by his own lithe piano, he sings about the imperfectness of love in a rich, emotionally raw voice that evokes Hathaway. It's the kind of classic R&B ballad that they just don't make any more. Elsewhere he keeps the honest lyrics flowing over the Latin-tinged groove of "Used to Love U": "Maybe, baby, Puffy or Jay-Z/Would all be better for you/Cuz all I could do was love you." Legend maintains the hip-hop influences at a minimum, only bringing in guest rappers for two cuts: West on the single-worthy "Number One," which samples the Staple Singers' 1975 hit "Let's Do It Again," and Snoop Dogg on the gospel-infused "I Can Change," which, showing off Legend's skills as a former choir director, will truly lift you up.

DOWNLOAD THIS; "Ordinary People"

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