John Legend, Live at SOB’s

Amy Linden

By Amy Linden

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Before he was reborn as an R&B golden child and self-proclaimed "Legend," John Stephens was just another talented musician slugging it out in the Manhattan club scene, hoping all the hard work would pay off with a label deal. That it has, since John Legend's exhilarating debut Get Lifted entered the Billboard charts at #7 early this year and cast a spell over both fans and a jaded industry alike. If these explosive live tracks, recorded at the downtown club SOB's in June and December of 2002, are just a small sample of Legend's gifts, then it's incredible that it took him so long to earn the big payback. Unlike many of his peers, Stephens, who's also made significant contributions to albums by Alicia Keyes, Kanye West and Jay-Z, can hold his own live, as these recordings amply prove. Armed with a sweet and tart tenor and a tight band, Stephens delivers an earlier (and slightly rougher) incarnation of "Get Lifted," a flat-out fierce (if unexpected) cover of Talking Heads '"Burning Down the House," a sanctified rendition of "Motherless Chile" and the potent "Sun Comes Up," which segues ever so slightly from sacred to seductive. A perfect companion piece to Get Lifted or great on its own, these recordings give fans another facet of an ascending star.