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Album Review

Mood-setting R&B from Maxwell

July 6, 2009
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R&B
Maxwell BLACKsummers'night
Columbia
ESSENTIAL “Bad Habits’’

Men, are you ready? That satisfied sigh you’re going to hear tomorrow is the sound of America’s women once they get a listen to Maxwell’s first record in eight years (the first of a trilogy). Let’s face it, how many guys can use the line “I want you to prove it to me in the nude’’ if his name isn’t Maxwell?

“BLACKsummers’night’’ reminds you why Maxwell is the premiere R&B vocalist of his generation and how much has gone wrong in his absence. Even at his nastiest (meant in the good sense), Maxwell is still tender, and these tracks, filled with devotion, heartbreak, and a little bit of social conscience, are sung with remarkable grace and subtlety. This doesn’t flow as seamlessly as Maxwell’s earliest efforts, but the songs are focused and often lovely and the execution is crisp.

Of course, the grooves are organic and the production is intimate with keyboards (“Love You’’) or horns (“Bad Habits’’) buoying them as the singer casts his spells. “Stop the World’’ is for anyone who has been insanely in love and thought that nothing mattered but whatever was happening right then, in that room. “Playing Possum,’’ with its acoustic guitar underpinnings and trumpet coda, transports Maxwell to the 1970s coffeehouses. The upbeat “Help Somebody’’ is a nice antidote to this appalling gimme-mine generation of R&B and hip-hop.

A few tracks (the fuzzy “Fistful of Tears’’) miss the mark, but this is the necessary R&B return from one of our great - and seemingly lost - soulmen. Now, anyone got D’Angelo’s number? (Out tomorrow) KEN CAPOBIANCO