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Darkness and Light’ finds John Legend coming into his own

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It’s his fifth studio album.
Annie Zaleski

Four stars

John Legend Darkness and Light

John Legend kicks off his fifth studio album with a powerful statement, “I Know Better.” On the organ-burnished, hymn-like song, he intones, “They say sing what you know/But I’ve sung what they want.” As the tune progresses, it reveals itself to be about asserting individuality with humility, strength and dogged resilience.

In a sense, that feels like the overarching theme of Darkness and Light, an impeccable R&B/soul collection that finds Legend coming into his own. The stormy, electro-grounded “What You Do to Me” reflects on a tumultuous relationship; “Surefire” boasts sinewy blues guitar and gospel-tinged harmonies; and “Right by You (For Luna)” is a jazz lullaby for his baby daughter. The album also stands tall atop some intriguing sonic details (courtesy of co-writers like indie-folk guru Will Oldham, aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and Legend’s guests. Chance the Rapper adds a verse on the slinky, groove-heavy “Penthouse Floor”; Perfume Genius trills like a wailing siren on “Temporarily Painless” and Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard contributes smoldering soul to the slow-jam title track. Darkness and Light might be Legend’s finest hour yet.

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