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John Legend

Neo-soul

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By Michael Norman  

A Kanye West protégé, Philly's neo-soul man John Stephens got his stage name because friends thought he sounded like a legend of old-school R&B.

A lesser artist might have found a moniker like that to be a curse. But Legend lives up to the hype on his Columbia Records debut, putting a smart, sensual spin on post-modern, romantic soul. Get Lifted is an irresistible, sophisticated blend of styles -- R&B, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, pop and more -- created and delivered with impeccable taste, heart and skill by an artist who is already being compared to R&B legends Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.

The music ranges from spare, graceful piano ballads ("Ordinary People") to swaggering, hip hop-influenced snapshots of modern street life ("I Can Change," featuring Snoop Dogg.) There's straight-up, family-style gospel ("It Don't Have to Change"), stormy breakup songs ("Used to Love You") and pure, old-school R&B ("Live It Up"). It's music that raises its voice in praise of redemption and love, and that will very likely have you singing and swaying like a member of the choir.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.