Exclaim!'s Top 15 Soul and R&B Albums Best of 2016

15. Maxwell
(Sony Music)
Perhaps there's something about seven-year breaks. In 2015, Janet Jackson returned following a protracted studio silence with her strongest album in nearly two decades; this year, it was Maxwell's turn with blackSUMMERS'night, the second instalment in a planned trilogy of albums. If blackSUMMERS'night is not quite as musically consistent as its similarly named predecessor, it more than matches its lofty peaks, and sees Maxwell finding new ways to approach familiar themes of love, seduction, commitment and (romantic) loss.
"Class is in session tonight," coos Maxwell on mid-tempo "All the Ways Love Can Feel" over a soft disco beat, burbling synths and shimmering horns. Now 43 — and 20 years removed from his classic debut — Maxwell is still an expert seducer, but the grain in his voice has added a dose of urgency to his pleas on "III" or the slow-burning "Lost," where the singer still pines for a married woman whose "children are growing up." Lone single "Lake by the Ocean" remains one of the year's finest R&B tracks, and the lush "1990X" coyly takes the listener back to the Urban Hang Suite — particularly in the song's coda, where Maxwell's falsetto once again takes full flight.
Thierry Côté