Maxwell’s 2009 album “BLACKsummers’night” is the first installment of a musical trilogy.
CLEARWATER – Maxwell, the platinum soul star known for his show-stopping performances, will bring his Summer Soulstice tour to the Tampa Bay area Friday, Aug. 1, 8 p.m., with a performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road.
In concert, the artist is lauded for his impeccable vocals, his connection to his audience and the sheer physicality of his performance.
Maxwell signed to Columbia Records at the tender age of 21. He had already composed more than 300 songs before signing on to the major label. The Brooklyn born phenomenon soon took the music world by storm with his debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.”
The Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, record producer and multi-instrumentalist began redefining classic soul music for a new generation with the release of the critically acclaimed debut in 1996. Fueled in part by the certified gold single “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” the album achieved double platinum status. The debut also received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album.
In 1997, Maxwell released his follow up, the “MTV Unplugged” EP, which achieved gold status with his live rendition of “This Woman’s Work.” He was heralded as the future of soul music and proved his staying power when he followed up with 1998’s platinum seller “Embrya.”
In 1999 Maxwell’s single, “Fortunate” – off of the “Life” soundtrack – became Billboard magazine’s No. 1 hit of the year.
Maxwell’s third album, “Now” hit shelves in 2001 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart. “Now” sold 300,000 copies during its maiden week and eventually also reached double platinum status.
Following a tour supporting “Now,” Maxwell took several years off from recording and performing.
According to a biography from Shore Fire Media, to hear Maxwell explain it, as much as his fans were waiting for him, he was waiting for them – and in the process of finding himself.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I do this because you’re living your life,” Maxwell said in the artist bio. “Going to the corner store, taking out the garbage and the next thing you know you’re on stage at Radio City Music Hall. It’s such a humbling thing and you’d think it would make my ego go out of control but I feel humility. Like this is why I need to do this. It’s not about your ego. It’s about celebrating your opportunity and the blessing to work and the joy you can possibly bring to people. That’s how it all resonated with me.”
In an age of immediacy, the idea of waiting sounds hopelessly outdated. Conversely, there is something to be said about anticipation. That may prove to be the case with Maxwell’s 2009 album.
After an extended hiatus, the ambassador of soul returned with a brand new look and a fresh yet infectiously vintage sound. The same artist who delivered classic songs like “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and “Lifetime” – as well as his unforgettably ethereal cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” – returned with a challenging, mature, sensual, courageous and emotionally open album entitled, “BLACKsummers’night” on Columbia Records. The album – the first installment of a trilogy – was a collection that was well worth the wait.
Maxwell’s fourth studio album and first in eight years, “BLACKsummers’night” is the sound of an artist taking the commitment to his craft and the conversation with his audience that much further.
“I wanted to return to ‘what was the promise?’” Maxwell said in artist bio provided by Shore Fire Media. “What did my music and creativity speak of to people? For me, coming back to that promise was kind of where my heart was really gravitating towards. I didn’t intentionally step away from all of it, but I just wanted to … live my life a little bit, and then be able to make music with that pure experience again.”
The soft-spoken, multi-platinum artist believes that in order to come back, it was necessary to step away.
He might have been out of the spotlight for eight years, but Maxwell – along with long time collaborator and friend Hod David – had begun crafting “BLACKsummers’night” several years ago.
By late 2008, the process of polishing and shaping the album was full on. Though having much of his creative team on board, Maxwell still approached the creative process with extreme caution and the painstaking meticulousness of a true genius.
“Every time I’d get in the studio it would be like I am trying to outdo this last record? I just wanted to make a really good record,” he said.
Composed of nine indelible songs, “BLACKsummers’night” finds Maxwell exploring life with a bold and purposeful sensuality unmistakably his own. Opening with a delicate hint of wistful chimes, the first single, “Pretty Wings,” is nostalgic and yet undeniably passionate.
“It’s about the last relationship I had,” Maxwell said. “How you meet the person of your dreams but at the wrong time. She was a serious muse and the song is a testament to what I wanted to say and say, to her.”
Equally personal is “Fistful of Tears.” Pushed along by a sturdy and incessant piano, Maxwell, shifting from those oh so recognizable falsettos and baritones, rides the melody like a man both possessed by and resigned to his feelings.
“It’s kind of about wanting to leave the industry and a relationship, but then realizing that I should give it a last try,” he said. “Don’t let it go.”
Then there’s the jazz thumping “Cold.” Peppered by a funked-up horn section and wrapped in a moist honey soaked groove, this fun, head bopping track finds Maxwell asking the eternal lovers question, “why do you like me like you do?”
“BLACKsummers’night” earned Maxwell six Grammy Award nominations and won for Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Pretty Wings." It has sold over one million copies in the United States.
A constant throughout “BLACKsummers’night” is its live and often raw sound. The entire album was recorded with an extraordinary live 10-piece band. He is taking it back to when a solo genius artist offered music that was close to perfection. No synthesizers, no duets. Just Maxwell bare and in the flesh ready to give old fans and new ones a sensory experience that he never fails to bring.