For someone who seems to idolize Stevie Wonder as much as he does, John Legend has never really come off as much of a risk-taker. The old-soul R&B singer has branched out on occasion, like on his 2008 hit dance-pop excursion “Green Light,” but he hasn’t done much to really stop you in your tracks with its boldness. That’s what makes Legend’s recent cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” performed entirely a capella by Legend, such a pleasant surprise—the fact that it actually sounds legitimately surprising at all.
Legend’s voice sounds as strong as it has in a while upon the song’s introduction, which launches into him singing the song’s first verse without any accompaniment. Halfway through the verse, Legend enters in support of himself, providing hmmms and ahhhhs to augment his lead, but cuts out for him to go solo on the song’s unforgettable “We could have had it aaaa-lllll!!!!” chorus lead-in. It’s on the chorus that Legend really impresses, his voice strained by the extended high notes, a shockingly raw and impassioned sound that’s far from the comfort zone that we’ve become used to with Legend.
Were we on the American Idol set right now, this cover would certainly fall into “Took a Risk and It Paid Off” approval territory, avoiding the dreaded “Stay in Your Lane” line of criticism. John Legend just might make it into the Top Ten after all. And guess what pop star he’s decided to take on next…