I decided to go back and get some old school R&B/Funk after hearing the John Legend and the Roots album Wake Up! This is a great album full of old school soul covers with one original song by John Legend that deal with social themes that were important when they were written and still are today. The album is mixture of old-school R&B and Hip-Hop composed of John Legends amazing voice mixed with the modern grooves laid down by the beat master Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and modern lyrics laid by a variety of rappers. I can’t say that I listen to either of these artists by themselves a lot, but they work great together and deserved winning the Grammy in 2011 for best R&B album. Some of John Legends solo work is too smooth for me, but on these songs with The Roots driving force behind him he is way more engaging. When I first started listening to this album I was drawn to the more famous artists on the album like Nina Simone’s “I Wish I knew How it would Feel to be Free”, Bill Withers’ “I Can’t Write Left Handed”, and Marvin Gayes’ “Wholy Holy”. After a while though I started to listen more and more to some of the covers that I didn’t recognize like Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes “Wake Up Everybody” and Baby Huey & the Babysitters “Hard Times”. “Hard Times” is the first track on Wake Up! And is a great opener for this album that really sets the tone for the rest of the album.
I had never heard of Baby Huey & the Babysitters before but I liked their single so I went and got their album: The Baby Huey Story:The Living Legend. This is a great album throughout and more than met my expectations. James Ramey aka Baby Huey was a large man with a big voice who starts the album off with his mighty mighty voice on the funky “Listen to Me”. Besides being a funky funky album it also has its more mellow elements like on the soulful cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come”. The band is solid throughout but the star of this show is definitely Baby Huey. He unfortunately died at the young age of 26 due to health and drug related problems. This is Baby Huey’s only album and was released after his death and produced by Curtis Mayfield, who also wrote sone of the songs on the album including “Hard Times”. This album never did well commercially but it (in particular “Hard Times”) has been sampled multiple times from a variety of hop-hop artists including Ice Cube and A Tribe Called Quest.
Both of these albums are just plain great R&B albums but with completely different styles. Wake Up! does a great job of covering old school R&B with a modern sound. John Legend has a smooth voice that fits great with the sound of 70’s R&B while the rap by Black Thought, Common, and CL Smooth give it a very modern feel. The Living Legend is a funky R&B album that never received the attention it deserves. Baby Huey’s voice is as large as himself. It’s unfortunate he died so young since he seemed to have so much potential. From the moment he started to sing on “Listen to Me” I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.