Maxwell
BLACKsummers'night


4.5
superb

Review

by Tyler Munro EMERITUS
September 10th, 2009 | 25 replies


Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Maxwell returns with the best soul album of 2009.

In 2008, when he somewhat unsuspectingly graced the BET award with an understated cover of Al Green's “Simply Beautiful”, Maxwell made his comeback in much the same way as he announced his arrival. Like on the Kate Bush cover that solidified him, Maxwell's performance was confident and convincing. Also really, really good. A year later, closing an 8 year gap between albums, BLACKsummers'night hit shelves, reviving the neo-soul scene his previous release, 2001's Now, helped define.

Perhaps the most captivating thing about Maxwell is his understated, quiet confidence. He has an intangible energy that allows him to convey enthusiasm and vigour oftentimes without raising his voice, and this is captured wonderfully on the dynamically written and produced BLACKsummers'night. Of course Maxwell is also inclined to add some funk to his soul, a dynamic shift that propels the record to higher ground, allowing the 36 year old singer to find a healthy medium between Vandross and Mayfield. What allows this is not just Maxwell's versatility as a vocalist, but also the timing, variation and execution of the instruments. Lead singles “Pretty Wings” and “Bad Habits” demonstrate the diverse use of horns on the album, with the former using brass to accentuate and pepper the music while the latter employs them as a means of changing the songs aesthetic altogether, transitioning it from a breath-y crooner to a high-energy pop song. And it all feels organic. The often simultaneous use of guitars, horns, pianos and organs rarely clash. Instead they drift in and out of prevalence, interplaying and interlocking with the metronomic drums and groove-heavy bass. Though the instruments often go all at once, BLACKsummers'night is never loud.

A prime example of how the album uses each instrument differently, “Help Somebody” bases much of its melody off of the initial interplay between piano and drums, using the bass percussively and the guitar as an accentuation while the horns enter only occasionally as kick starts to choruses and vocal runs. On the flipside, the slow-burning “Playing Possum” ignores horns almost exclusively until it begins to taper off. If any thing could solidify the talent of Maxwell's backing band, the album's 2:42 denouement “Phoenix Rise” is it. Capping off the album's surprisingly short 37 minute runtime, the track is a synth-ridden, drum and bass heavy instrumental jam. Of course none of this would matter were it not for Maxwell's ability as a vocalist and if anything he's refined his talents since he first struck the scene with his falsetto-driven cover of “This Woman's Work”. His control is remarkable, allowing him to weave between his false and regular tenor with recognizable ease, something that post-production and multi-tracking makes evident in tracks such as “Fistful of Tears”, which ends with the singer complimenting and playing off of his own vocal runs until fading out.

Saying Maxwell has hit the ground running is more than an understatement. The first album in a series of three (all with the same title, differing only in capitalizations) BLACKsummers'night isn't just the soul album of the year, but also a top-tier addition to the canon of a once-fizzling scene. The last year and a half has seen soul fans graced with everything from Erykah's left-of-centre Baduisms and Georgia Anne Muldrow's afro-soul-hop experimentations to Raphael Saadiq's more orthodox heralds to Motown, but BLACKsummers'night has set a higher standard, one we can only hope D'Angelo's James River and Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Pt. 2 can come close to meeting.



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user ratings (48)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Vegeta of Nazareth (4)
A product for reproduction and a chief contender for R&B album of the year....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Tyler
Emeritus
September 10th 2009


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Decided I needed to write a review for this so here it is. Album is so good I only just realized today that it was just 37 minutes.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
September 10th 2009


15743 Comments


staff explosion

Digging: Flying Lotus - You're Dead!

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
September 10th 2009


20857 Comments


6 staff reviews in about 20 hours. I'll take credit for lighting the fire under your asses.

bastard
September 10th 2009


3435 Comments


gonna have to check this out, i've heard so many good things about this.

Tyler
Emeritus
September 10th 2009


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I didn't even realize you were staff DaveyBoy so I wouldn't take too much credit. I just finally have time; until Tuesday I'd worked 17 of 19 days.

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
September 10th 2009


20857 Comments


"I didn't even realize you were staff DaveyBoy so I wouldn't take too much credit."

Was kidding Tyler, but anyway, I'll get back into my box now.

Roach
September 10th 2009


2148 Comments


Seems Davey feels restricted as a staff reviewer.

Good review but I won't listen to this.

bastard
September 10th 2009


3435 Comments


too busy masturabating to new Raekwon i see

Tyler
Emeritus
September 10th 2009


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Wasn't an insult Davey, just support of how busy I've been.

PuddlesPuddles
September 10th 2009


4786 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yeah this is kickass

YouAreMySilence
September 11th 2009


3727 Comments


I need some more soul, I'll listen to this when I'm done listening through Attack In Black's new record. So much music, errr.

devsol
September 11th 2009


347 Comments


BUT WHAT ABOUR SOULJA BOY

BSX
September 11th 2009


1633 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice job of being late

=P

TheGreatD17
September 11th 2009


1141 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

After "Help Somebody" I think this album goes downhill, but I'm excited for the next two albums, hopefully they'll improve on this. Despite the albums you mentioned, there is still a lack of good soul music out there and Maxwell is one of the best the genre has to offer, it would be great if he could top his debut.

DhA
September 11th 2009


421 Comments


sputnik returns with bold statement about soul and barely any other reviews for comparison

PuddlesPuddles
September 11th 2009


4786 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Pretty Wings is all over the radio, but Bad Habits is far better

rav3
September 18th 2009


35 Comments


Where did all the "soul" fans come from? All i hear is usher with more instumentation and the same amount of voice wankery to make this supposedly emotional. Wait...isn't this called R'nB then, not soul?

Zoo
September 18th 2009


3759 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This is actually his worst album to date and isn't really that soulful in the least, especially when compared with Embrya. This is quite disappointing and far from a comeback.

Tyler
Emeritus
September 19th 2009


7926 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

isn't soulful? what does that even mean? and far from a come back? you're being pretty vague bro.

PuddlesPuddles
September 21st 2009


4786 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Zoo, for this being 1 in a 3 album compilation, it's a pretty great start of his comeback.



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