Review Summary: John Legend's forgotten album showcases the R&B singer's roots in a fun, energetic and soulful manner
No, his birth name is not Legend. Live at S.O.B.'s - New York City was recorded and performed by and under John Stephens, his real name. How Mr. Stephens became John "Legend" is beyond me, but the name(s) he performs under are of no real importance. What's evident in this album is how much fun John was having and the great album he made in the process.
Recorded live in New York City, Live at S.O.B.'s showcases the kind of artist John began as and his soulful roots. The album opens with "Set It Off". We hear some noises in the audience and a man comes up on the mic and introduces John as "a brother who doesn't need any introduction" (ironic) "John Stephens." The band kicks in with a funky riff and the song is under way. John raps/sings "I came to relax and enjoy the show/ And kick it with some women that I barely know". The song is a great opener and surely got the crowd on their feet.
John's voice is clearly the highlight of this album. His vocals wrap themselves around the funky, soulful beats, ranging from high falsettos to deep baritones. "Soul Joint", a song about his childhood singing in church, and discovering his love for music, sees John singing in extreme high's, extreme low's and everything in between.
But I must give credit, where credit is due. While John’s voice is the main feature, his band is very tight and does an excellent job of never exceeding, or over-powering him, but providing him with sufficient beats and melodies. "Alright" is another up-beat, funky song, with a guitar riff, that slithers through the verses and chorus, giving the song a dark feel to it. The lengthy, gospel-style "Sun Comes Up" has a nice breakdown/ jam where John introduces each member of the band to the audience, and gives them the spotlight to show what they can do on their respective instruments.
It's a shame that this album is unrecognized and even unknown to most people, because it tops most of his studio-work. John has one of the best voices of this generation, and on this album, a band that can back it up perfectly. Anyone interested in picking up a fun, enjoyable album, should give this a listen and hear John “Legend” Stephen’s best work to date.