Barack Obama's "Yes we can" campaign didn't just inspire the US electorate. Six-time Grammy-winning soul singer John Legend and fellow Philadelphians the Roots are attempting preserve the mood of change with an album of soulful protest music from the 1960s and 1970s. The collision of timeless soul and the Roots' modern rap helps lyrics concerning education, the environment and healthcare feel entirely relevant today. Legend was made to sing songs originally performed by Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway alongside obscure but well-chosen selections such as Baby Huey and the Babysitters' fantastic Hard Times. Driven along by the Roots' fearsome bass and drums, many of the tracks have a raw, driving feel along the lines of Gaye's Inner City Blues. In his solo career, Legend has been accused of being too smooth to be really engaging, but it's hard to deny the spectacular emotional rawness he brings to Nina Simone's I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.
Dave Simpson is a Guardian music critic and author