Published Jun 29, 2016Maxwell's straight-up approach to soul music has both endeared him to R&B fans and solidified his standing with names like Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross. It's remarkable how he's been able to continue crafting sounds that stay firmly within the contemporary R&B lane without coming off stale or dated.
The imperatively titled blackSUMMERS'night — bold the "SUMMERS" please — is his fifth studio album, second in a scheduled trilogy of albums and first in seven years. Yet here we are, with tracks evoking previous efforts while remaining fresh to the ear.
Consider the 43-year-old the male version of Sade, an artist who has countless times refined a particular musical mode into a gleaming diamond shine. Running at just under 50 minutes, and produced by longtime collaborator Hod David, blackSUMMERS'night represents a soul music practicum, a dose of modern R&B that resists deconstruction.
Sonically, the sound is purring percussion, soothing electronics and stirring orchestral vibes. Lyrically, the themes remain the same — the mysteries of love, emotion and regret — yet feature enough new twists to maintain engagement throughout. The breezy "1990x" comes off like it was created in the decade it's named after, a chill cut that sounds like it was left off his 1996 Urban Hang Suite debut. "Lake By The Ocean" is a blast of modern soul, deceptively simple in approach yet with resourceful impact. "The Fall" is potent in its fullness, "Gods" is effervescent yet down-to-earth and the serene "Hostage" dabbles with the irony of commitment.
Maxwell is R&B, evolved; one hopes that other artists are taking notes. (Sony Music)