Forget the brutality that suffuses Steve McQueen’s brilliant film, 12 Years a Slave. This album, assembled by John Legend, who also sings a couple of tracks, is all about our shared humanity. It’s quite an eclectic mix—from field hollers, to fingerpicked folk blues (Gary Clark Jr. at his haunting best on Libba Cotton’s “Freight Train” and Lonnie Donegan’s “When the Sun Goes Down”), to short orchestral cues by Hans Zimmer, to Alabama Shakes’ jazzy take on Max Roach and Oscar Brown’s “Driva Man,” to striking originals by Alicia Keys (“Queen of the Field”), Chris Cornell (“Misery Chain”) and the rousing closer by Cody ChesnuTT, “What Does Freedom Mean (To a Free Man).” I also really love Laura Mvula’s moving version of the Rodgers and Hart standard, “Little Girl Blue.” By emphasizing African-American music styles—gospel, blues, jazz and hints of R&B—the potpourri has a more unified sound than the disparate elements might suggest, and it also manages to evoke both the film’s story and speak to our own imperfect times.
Producers: Nicholas Britell, Alicia Keys, Tracy Miller, Charlie Peacock, John Legend, Cody ChesnuTT. Engineers/mixers: Britell, Dave Tozer, Bharath Ramanath, Daniel Kresco, Jimmy Nutt, Ann Mincieli, Samuele Aru, Richie Biggs, Chris Bolster, Quentin Gilkey. Studios: Abbey Road, Chicago Recording, Remote Control, Art House, Spark, Jungle, Oven. Mastering: Stephen Marcussen, Stewart Whitmore/ Marcussen Mastering.