It's one of the best things you'll hear all year.
Daryl Easlea 2009-06-29
There is a school of thought who believes soul music finished in 1972 and then those who feel all new soul should sound as if it comes from before the same date. Thanks heavens for Maxwell. Only his fourth album and his first in eight years BLACKsummers'night has no such preconceptions and nor should its listeners.
The start of a trilogy of releases, BLACK is his soul album, SUMMERS' will be more gospel and NIGHT will focus on slow jams. However, there are touches of all three styles here.
Considering Maxwell is such a huge star in the US, this is not an album that sets out to please anyone but the artist himself; however, this is no exercise in self-indulgence – these are copper-bottomed, well-written songs. There are big ballads (Fistful Of Tears); astute pop songs (Pretty Wings); atmospheric workouts (Phoenix Rise) and, in Bad Habits, the sort of floating groove that ranks alongside Roy Ayers' or Donny Hathaway's most sun-kissed moments.
Recorded largely live with his ten-piece band and working with his musical collaborator Hod Davis; as always, Maxwell works on a 'less is more' approach. For example, Keyon Harrold's understated trumpet solo on Playing Possum complements Maxwell's economical scat vocal and acoustic guitar to spine-tingling effect.
BLACKsummers'night does all this in 38 minutes. Arriving on the third day of one of our rare heatwaves in the UK has influenced this review to an extent; the undeniable pull of music this sweet playing with windows open and everyone seeming just that little bit happier helps. But when the storm clouds are back again, this will still sound as good. It's one of the best things you'll hear all year. Bring on the next two.