- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

John Legend

Once Again

G.O.O.D./Sony Urban/Columbia

“Let’s first kiss / Like the moment we first did,” R&B; phenom John Legend pleads on his new track “Heaven,” thus articulating the hope of his legions of fans.

The world fell in love with the baby-faced artist following his 2004 smash debut, “Get Lifted,” and after buying over three million records, they can’t wait for a repeat performance.

Don’t be fooled; the sophomore record may be titled “Once Again,” but it is no mere reprise of its predecessor, for which Mr. Legend won three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist.

Sure, once again, the smoky-voiced singer enlisted hip-hop heavy-hitter Kayne West to executive produce and Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am to co-write some material; and once again, songs combine soul, R&B;, gospel and hip-hop elements, situating the performer in a neat time bubble where swingin’ beats, Motown hooks and lyrics about “wilin’ out” peacefully coexist.

But as hinted at in the album’s first single, the crooning “Save Room,” this record finds the artist experimenting vocally and musically.

Yes, the LP boasts several tracks that loosely resemble “Ordinary People” and “Used To Love U” (both from the triple platinum “Get Lifted”).

But “Once Again” feels more like an artist’s statement that’s meant to show Mr. Legend’s range. If he used the first album to “Get Lifted,” then he attempts to take flight here — and without all the big-name cameos.

Some songs work. Some, in fact, are fantastic. Yet others ooze with cheese, meaning they probably won’t bring home the cheddar.

One of the more interesting artistic departures is “Show Me,” featuring Mr. Legend’s ethereal vocals laced with bluesy guitar riffs to create an undeniably Jeff Buckley-esque sound.

On the other hand, the bossa nova tune “Maxine” sounds like elevator music, and the inspirational “Coming Home” seems tailor-made for a Hallmark Channel movie.

Listeners may find that the album’s real gems are the ones quarried from mines closer to “Get Lifted.” “Heaven,” for instance, is a multifaceted diamond produced by Mr. West that sparkles from its Monk Higgins sample and church choirish chorus to its simple hip-hop beat and tambourine jangle. As the song suggests, you’ll want to “turn the beat up on repeat.”

Speaking of repetition, “Again” is a lovely, lingering ballad that revisits the complicated relationships of “Ordinary People” and similarly showcases Mr. Legend’s piano virtuosity and powerful pipes.

However, those wanting to make good on that amorous moment promised in “Heaven’s” lyrics should proceed immediately to “Slow Dance,” a groovin’ Motown-like jam based around samples of Lewis and Poindexter’s “She’s a Fox.” An electric guitar pings while the background singers chime in with “Na na na na” and Mr. Legend proposes we take it to the floor.

With the bar set so high for his follow-up to the acclaimed “Get Lifted,” Mr. Legend may get marked down a point or two for a few questionable choices. But “Once Again” is a fine album that should give fans their new Legend fix — and one that offers a solid promise of what lies ahead from this talented music maker.

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