Review Summary: helped redefine soul in silky smooth style
Great albums can be fun, sentimental, technically impressive, or avant-garde, but, more often than not, they have some mishaps, only mitigating them because of strengths which sufficiently overwhelm the shortcomings. But rarely do we find albums that maintain the same level of quality in each song, seamlessly connecting them to one another and possessing the aforementioned attributes; however, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
, the stunning debut of Gerald Maxwell Rivera, retains flawless quality, uncommonly excellent transitions, and amidst them uncovers an emotive, glossy, consistently skillful and unique voice, competently creating a silky smooth, epicurean album.
The pure quality emanating from Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
reflects the developing neo-soul movement of the late 90s which brought soul music from the 60s and 70s into the contemporaneous context, adding polish and incorporating jazz-funk elements. The sultry and chill atmosphere fostered when these elements are effectively integrated into songs makes for soulful yet understated music; an inviting change from the unabashedly flavorless impositions frequently riddling contemporary mainstream RnB.
In Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
, Maxwell embodies the best of neo-soul. He is soulful with quiet passion, letting the pervasive mood and theme permeate with ease. From the opening to closing tracks, Maxwell asks us to explore the sensual wonders of his suite. “Urban Theme,” a vocal-less funky tune, sets the tone of the album before it enters Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite with “Welcome,” where Maxwell's high but light voice makes its first appearance. Then, a lil “Sumthin' Sumthin'” turns up the heat in jazz-poppy style, effectively leading into “Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)” and the sensual, sub-bassy “Dancewitme.” Mid-way through Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
, “...Til The Cops Come Knockin'” marks the transformation from laid-back vocals and groovy beats to deeply affecting vocals and melodic Spanish-sounding guitar in addition to salient sax and piano. Maxwell moves into vulnerable territory and his voice accordingly makes the transition, transforming from purely an instrument to an emotional vehicle, conveying basic, human feelings. In accordance with the new trajectory, he modifies his voice, expressing the highs and lows in the music with extended runs and impossibly high falsetto in “Reunion.” Then, in “Suitelady,” he substitutes his characteristically smooth voice in favor of rougher, grittier tones. His consistent but subtle deviations and overall maturation during the course of the album make it cohesive yet nuanced, allowing Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
to stay in the pleasant chill zone as well as preserve enough variation to maintain interest.
In conclusion, Maxwell's gratifying debut satisfies many purposes and suits many situations, showing reigned but effective versatility. It redefined soul in tremendous style and deserves an honest listen.