Once Again

Artist: John LegendTitle: Once AgainRating: 4 StarsReviewed by: Alex Thornton

After racking up experience behind the scenes as a songwriter and session musician for some of the biggest names in Hip-Hop and R&B, John Legend debuted as a solo artist with 2004's breakout hit Get Lifted. Assisted by a co-sign from Kanye West, Legend surprised many by topping the charts with a brand of piano-driven soul that's rare in today's R&B scene, lead by "Ordinary People" garnering frequent spins across a wide variety of radio and video formats. With Once Again (G.O.O.D./Sony), Legend returns with a familiar but evolved style that keeps the momentum going.

John’s biggest accomplishment with Once Again is incorporating a wide range of musical styles, while still directing the collective of songs along the same path. The bossa nova sounds of the lead single "Save Room" and the warm, relaxed "Maxine" blend in well with more Hip-Hop influenced selections like "Stereo". When Legend goes towards traditional soul, the results are suitably authentic. With "Show Me", Legend displays that he's studied and absorbed the work of his forefathers without simply mimicking them. The production is assisted by Kanye, Raphael Saadiq and will.i.am among others, but Legend keeps the focus on himself rather than relying on the big names to carry his work.

The only hamper to the disc is a handful of mediocre tracks that are easy to lose in the mix. "P.D.A." or "Coming Home", for example, aren't bad but come off as bland side items compared to the more palatable works that surround them. With the bar set fairly high by the best compositions, the album as a whole would have been better off by simply omitting two or three songs, leaving less quantity, but more consistent quality. The music is still decent at its worst and won't inspire fast-forwarding.

As with his first album, John Legend's challenge will be selling a fairly sophisticated sensibility to a market that may not be ready for it, but this album further justifies his refusal to dumb himself down to the typical standards. With an abundance of well conceived musical arrangements and just the right amount of power applied to the vocals, Legend's approach to Once Again may be uncommon, but is more importantly undeniable.