Street Sounds: Marvin Gaye would approve

Piano-playing soul singer John Legend’s fourth album is a sonically adventurous long playing trip through straight-up soul ballads.

Piano-playing soul singer John Legend’s fourth album is a sonically adventurous long playing trip through straight-up soul ballads and 3D studio textures.

The Grammy-winning singer works the edges of R&B, hip hop and soul with an ear for space and texture, with Kanye West and Eddie Tozer co-producing.

The trio hone in on a higher-than-high blend of hip hop colours and classic balladry.  It’s a far reaching sound that draws on urban experience and unshackled studio ideas.

But Legend’s songwriting is as smooth as his voice and he doesn’t break the spell.  His contribution to Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained sound track is a recent example of his experimental soul sound, but Love in the Future is less spaghetti Western leaning but equally atmospheric throughout its many tracks.

There’s a feeling of inspiration in the album that peaks at several points. These are Open Your Eyes, a sonically adventurous ballad, the shivery Save the Night and Wanna Be Loved, a fast forward postcard from the past sent by Marvin Gaye. The experimentation brings the songs to another place and Legend’s suave vocal persona conveys otherworldly longing.

His piano man roots are richly tendered and deep.

Legend could easily hold up an album with himself seated on a stool in front of a keyboard with a mic hanging overhead (All of Me).  But this is something beyond that – a high level of creativity in the music and a zoned-in mix of studio magic and out-on-the-edge soul-style songwriting that brushes against psychedelic sources.

Marvin Gaye would dig it.