CD Review of BLACKsummers’night by Maxwell
Maxwell: BLACKsummers’night
Recommended if you like
D’Angelo, Al Green, Lauryn Hill
Label
Columbia
Maxwell:
BLACKsummers’night

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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M
axwell’s fans may have grown awfully frustrated with the eight years it took him to finish his fourth album, but whether or not his music still matters to you – and judging by its Number One debut, it would seem most of those fans stuck around – you have to admit the man knows how to make an entrance: "Bad Habits," BLACKsummer’snight’s opening track, begins with the singer purring (in silky falsetto, no less), "Make me crazy, don’t speak no sound / I want you to prove it to me in the nude."

Quibble with his prolificacy if you must, but give him this much – when Maxwell finally shows up, he comes to play.

Maxwell

Thankfully, that isn’t all he has going for him; though it does have its less than stellar moments, BLACKsummer’snight is one cool bastard of an album, all earthy grooves and pillow talk, led by Maxwell’s singularly soulful, elastic croon. If you miss the days when R&B records were cut by live bands – and yes, we’re talking bands, not random collections of studio musicians on each track – then you’d want to buy this album even if the songs weren’t any good, simply because of the way they sound. The bass is warm and rich; the drums, though clean and precise, breathe; the horns jump nimbly in and out of the mix – and perhaps best of all, none of it comes across as self-conscious. Unlike a lot of other organic-sounding R&B albums that have been released over the last 15 years, BLACKsummer’snight doesn’t strain to evoke a retro vibe; it’s simply music, devoid of gimmickry, powered by good old-fashioned talent and songcraft.

And craft really is the active ingredient here. Though few of the album’s tracks could honestly be considered catchy – and none of them contain any of the artificially sweetened glitz we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from the genre – they’re all solidly built and carefully arranged, with nary an unnecessary note between them. While these aren’t necessarily Maxwell’s best songs, per se, they’re arguably his most mature efforts as a songwriter, because they showcase an artist confident enough in his work to rely on the simplest ingredients and let the results speak for themselves. (Put another way, BLACKsummer’snight is sort of like the Shaker chair of R&B’s class of ’09 – with the notable difference that repeated use of the album will most likely lead to pregnancy.)

Again, the album has its flaws. Not every track holds the attention as solidly as, say, the stellar leadoff single, "Pretty Wings" – and as smartly arranged as these songs are musically, their lyrics sometimes border on the ponderous. But really, that’s just quibbling; the album goes down supremely easy, and if you don’t go looking for flaws in the music, you probably aren’t going to hear any. Inasmuch as any album is worth waiting almost a decade to hear, this one fits the description – and the best news of all for Maxwell fans is that the singer has announced BLACKsummer’snight is just the first installment in an intended trilogy, with the second disc – said to be a gospel record "with a twist" – already in the pipeline. Hang on to your panties, ladies.

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