HuffPost Review: Maxwell - BLACKsummers'night

It's been eight long years since Maxwell's platinum-selling, number one album Now debuted at the top of the charts, toting its urban hits "Lifetime" and "This Woman's Work" along with it. That disc's follow-up, BLACKsummers'night, finally hits the street, and the obvious question is, was it worth the wait? Absolutely, for a couple of reasons: The singer's voice has matured significantly--along with his haircut and wardrobe; this time out, Maxwell has recast himself as a grown-up with all its musical and lyrical upgrades. Also, since BLACKsummers'night apparently is THE FIRSTofatrilogy, given what the singer introduced within this lush, sensuous album, his next two offerings promise deeper explorations of what this guy is really feeling and what he creatively can deliver.

Captured live in the studio, at times, BLACKsummers'night feels like it was created out of Marvin Gaye's seventies catalog, especially the albums Let's Get It On and Trouble Man (albeit from the perspective of the sheets, not the streets). That especially applies to its horn arrangements, such as the one featured on "Bad Habits" that recalls the earlier decade as it spruces things up with a spritz of Stax. Everything on this track, as well as the whole album, is about space, warmth, and the sexy, like when Maxwell's chorus hook "Will you forgive me?" and tag line "I can't control the feelin'..." ignite an old school fade amidst a jazzy horn wrap-up and howling Marvinistics. Overall, this project just wants to seduce, as when "Cold"'s chanty "How can you be so cold" vocal harmonies grab Sade's exotic use of inverted fourths, or when the single "Pretty Wings" starts with eerily intimate chimes and ends with lush lullaby synths layered with distant horns. And with the open-pedal'd piano sustain of "Love You," Maxwell's "Houdini would be very proud" stays buoyant in the keyboard's wake.

Sure, BLACKsummers'night's elegant vocals and production with their lovely musical backdrops make this one of those albums you can do it to if you must--although it's not THAT carnal, it's actually pretty artistic. And this is the type of project we would have expected D'Angelo to one day deliver before or during his own long, self-imposed hiatus from the music scene. Instead, it's Maxwell who put those puzzle pieces together, his fully taking advantage of a voice glowing more golden with age. He now emotes from that place from which r&b stirs, though the singer has many musical miles to go before he fills any ground-breaking, bigger shoes that came before him. Still, if he's real smart about his choice of material (stepping out of the bedroom, lending his voice to some weightier topics) and growth as an artist (perhaps delving deeper into what made Atlantic/Stax/Motown beloved), he might someday be a real contender.


1. Bad Habits
2. Cold
3. Pretty Wings
4. Help Somebody
5. Stop The World
6. Love You
7. Fistful Of Tears
8. Playing Possum
9. Phoenix Rise

1. Intro
2. Pretty Wings
3. Help Somebody
4. Cold
5. Stop The World
6. Love You
7. Pretty Wings - music video