Though R&B songwriter John Stephens is currently a “legend” only in his own mind, his debut comes ringingly endorsed by its executive producer, Kanye West, who sees him as “the future”.
An interesting choice of word for an album so in thrall to the past, but one thing nobody disputes is Legend’s soulful elegance. Nine years as choir director for his local church make themselves felt in the richness of the piano-based arrangements, which sit beautifully with pared-down, otherworldly vocals.
His luminous phrasing makes light work even of heartfelt ballads, R&B’s traditional come-a-cropper indulgence. Take, say, Ordinary People – just the man and his piano, it’s not only sonically arresting but lyrically reflective. Refusing to tie up loose ends, Legend is ambivalent about the relationship described in the song, admitting that there’s “no fairy-tale conclusion”. Good for him.
West and beagle-for-hire Snoop Dogg add hip-hoppy swagger to a few numbers, Snoop yawning in his inimitable way, “I’m gonna give up the pimpin’ and step my love game up” – but the Dogg is in such striking company with Legend that, for once, he doesn’t steal the show. A real gem.
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