Live Review
by SashaS

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John Legend: the piano man + soul songs
Live: John Legend
Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Sunday, May 15, 2005
John Legend provides refuge from blandess

When one re-surnames oneself ‘Legend’ - probably the most overused word of music vocabulary - the sense of humour, irony and self-belief shouldn’t be discounted. John Stevens may have adopted it but despite such moniker, it was being a hard-working backroom boy that made his name.

Legend may still be relatively little known in the UK but he’s in hundreds of thousands of homes via appearances on tracks such as Alicia Keys’ ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ and KanYe West’s ‘Slow Jamz’. West championed the young pianist/songwriter by signing him to his production company and taking executive producer credit on the fine debut album ‘Get Lifted’.

It’s laid-back, traditional sounding work that owes more to Stevie Wonder than the modern urban-skool. His songs uphold standard values rather than attempt to wagon-jump and, when he appears to - there are moments that recall Marvyn Gaye. Legend’s recorded oeuvre is elegant, passionate, spirited songs that touch on gospel as much as the mellow and romantic legacy with full string section on!

Stevens was a child prodigy who grew up in Ohio, where he began singing gospel and playing piano at the tender age of five. Leaving home at 16 to go to college in Philadelphia, it was there that he first found a larger audience. Not yet out of his teens, Legend was tapped to play piano on Lauryn Hill's ‘Everything Is Everything’ in 1998.

After completing college, he moved to New York, where he began to build a loyal following playing in nightclubs and releasing CDs that he would sell at shows. He also became an in-demand session musician, playing and occasionally writing for a wide array of artists, including Ms Keys, Twista, Janet Jackson, and KanYe West. It wasn't until West signed the young talent to his new label that he adopted the Legend name for the 2004's ‘Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory’. ‘Get Lifted’, his first studio album, was released later in the year.

'Ordinary People' [current single] and West guesting ‘Number One’ [a future 45-er?] move the audience profoundly and literally as do the other songs, be it ‘Used To Love U’ or ‘It Don’t Have To Change’ or the chi-uplifting ‘I Can Change’!… Legend has a charming onstage presence and the girls appear to like the look of him. With a voice that far surpasses these [peripheral?] qualities and songs to match - the new star is certainly in our midst.

Neo-soul singer and pianist recently completed dates on Alicia Keys’ ‘Diary Tour’ before embarking on this Euro engagement that will be interrupted for a quick return to the New York City to appear at the Benefit for Senator Hillary Clinton. The man of sensitivity and consciousness…

John Legend's album 'Get Lifted' is available now on Columbia