I chose to start off with this album, because it's a really neat collaboration with John Legend, and the groove from front to back on this album is bad ass. I don't really know how to describe it, other than that. Unless you're born without some kind of soul and groove, you can't help but moving a little when the first track on this album hits. I understand that most white people have a problem with groove. It's a phenomenon I don't quite understand, but man, can black people groove. My wife asks me fairly regularly if I know that I'm a white guy born in the 80's, not a black guy born in the 60's or 70's. A lot of times I wish it were the latter. Coincidentally, the only white guy in The Roots (at the time the album was recorded, since 2011, Owen Biddle has left to pursue his solo career) played bass. He sure doesn't sound like a tall skinny white guy when he plays.
Back to the album.
This came out back in 2010. The whole premise of the album was to cover a whole bunch of old Vietnam era protest songs. They also wanted to stay away from the more mainstream songs, so that they felt a little more free to change arrangements, and not be criticized for it. Honestly, I had no idea that they we're all covers (except Shine, which was in the movie 'Waiting for Superman' which is actually a really good movie about the educational system) and I didn't find out until I had listened to the album everyday for about 5 months. I really wasn't that upset about it either. There have been a lot of songs that are covered, that I just can't stand. It seems that most of the covers are the covering artist trying to prove that they can record or play the original song better than the original artist.
I've read some pretty mixed reviews of the album, saying that it was either a great rearranging of these songs, or that, it was awful and that they must not have had anything better to do other than destroy some old songs. I personally think the album is great, and without it, I never would've started getting into Bill Withers. The Roots bring an amazing neo R&B feel to this, and I think John Legend, did a pretty good job with the vocals. They made the songs different enough to make them their own. There's no way I could listen to this and say that JL and The Roots didn't record this. An excerpt from AllMusic states "The source material will be unfamiliar to the average fan of the artists." That pretty much sums it up.
The album was recorded digitally, but has a really great organic feel to it. It almost feels live, especially the Bill Withers track 'I Can't Write Left Handed'. It sounds like the group in a nice live room, all just playing. That tends to be a lot of what I appreciate in recordings. I like to hear mistakes from time to time, and it to all flow together.
The one track I really want to dig into is titled "Compared to What" originally written by Eugene McDaniels.
The song starts out with a tight little groove, some Rhodes, organ and some guitar, bass and horns drop in before the vocals kick in. The verses are all pretty laid back, just carrying a groove, to give the vocals a chance to open up, and the lyrics to be discernible, even though he sings a little quieter, and dirtier. As soon at the chorus kicks in, ?uestlove kicks in a nice little jazz groove on drums, and Owen Biddle rips into a seriously nasty grooving bass line. As soon as I heard it I went over to grab my bass and learn it. It took me a little while, because translating what he did on a six string bass, onto a four string wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Mostly because of him, I am in the process of designing my own 6 string bass out of some gorgeous 80 year old clear peruvian wood, that my mother in law has sitting around.
I still love listening to this song, even though it doesn't have as much of a punch as some of the other tracks on the album, JL's voice really pumps the energy into the chorus. Also, the sax solo is great. It's a little basic to start out with, but it gives that instrumental just what it needs.
Below is a live version of this song, which is even funkier than the album version. I highly recommend watching it in HD if you can. The SubKick really comes through, along with the horn section, that way.
Hope you guys have a chance to check this album out.
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