The Roots are busy: they play every night as the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, drummer Questlove has over one million followers on Twitter, and last month the band released Wake Up!, a collaboration with John Legend. It was their 10th studio album in twenty years and the second released this year. Clearly, The Roots do not press the snooze button.
Wake Up! covers soul hits from the 1960s and 70s by Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Baby Huey among others. Legend's smoky and soulful voice blends with The Roots acoustic sound, the songs have a Motown feel to them but the lyrics (sometimes slightly tweaked) have a poignancy that feels relevant in 2010.
In "Our Generation", originally recorded by soul singer Ernie Hines, Legend sings:
Hope of the world is in our generation
It’s all left up to us to change this present situation
Take caution from our elders, don’t make the same mistake
Let’s fill the world with love, and get rid of all the hate
The Roots have a gift for embracing all genres --try to catch their "Freestylin' with The Roots" bit on Late Night, a genius display of musical improv. This album is a showcase for that versatility. They take the funky grooves of Motown and effortlessly transition between rap, spoken word, and reggae. In the lead single "Wake Everybody", Common raps over a gospel chorus leading into another chorus by Legend and vocalist Melanie Fiona.
Amid a sea of strong covers, the album's one original tune stands out. In "Shine" John Legend sings: "can't eat if we don’t feed them, can't read if we don't teach them." And the song's call to action will reach even more people than just dedicated Roots and John Legend fans: it's a featured tune on the soundtrack for Waiting For Superman, the new documentary about the state of American public education, opening around the country October 8th.