Title - 'Once Again' (Columbia)
Artist - John Legend
'Once Again' is miles away from 'Get Lifted.' It is an oddly contemporary throwback to the days of balladeers and crooners. If "contemporary throwback" sounds like an oxymoron, that should come as no surprise from the duo of Legend and West, who have made duality somewhat of a mission statement in their work. Truthfully, Kanye's influence is only mildly felt here. It's hard to imagine that this album is anybody's brainchild other than Legend, who contentedly defies convention with a collection of songs that could be the soundtrack to a romance set in the 40's. Basically, this is another relationship album. The lyrics are at times very clever, at times stock love song fare. Nothing here holds up to the strongest material of Get Lifted, but Legend takes such a different approach to this album that it really doesn't invite comparisons between the two. The cast of producers creates a wonderful, cocktail hour ambience that is deceptively simple. There are some very subtle and creative things going on in the background of many of these songs, and the guitar work definitely plays against the piano bar vibe.
The best part about this album is the improvement in Legend's singing. He's never going to have a really, really great voice to fall back on, so he has to draw us in by relying on other attributes. On Get Lifted, it was his songwriting. That is still the case on Once Again, but he also has made strides with his phrasing and vocal choices. His voice has matured a great deal, and it doesn't just have to do with the more sophisticated material he's working with. The two biggest influences that I can hear now, which weren't evident on his first album? Tony Bennett and Jeff Buckley. Yeah, that was just as weird for me to type as it must be to read, but check out the album and you'll come to the same conclusion.