2009 was the last time fans received an album from Maxwell. His break between releases contributed to a trend of “Neo-Soul” artists such as D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill becoming elusive after the ‘90s. Yet, his supporters have shown little doubt that his return will live up to his reputation as an artist. Maxwell validates their confidence with his new album blackSUMMERS’night. He offers the second installment in a trilogy that has already boasted classic songs such as “Bad Habits” and “Pretty Wings.”
Maxwell opens the album with “All the Ways Love Can Feel,” an up-tempo groove reminiscent of music from the 1970s. The instrumentation powers the song as strong horns mesh with spacey sounds similar to those heard on Embrya. The following track is “The Fall,” a less jovial song on which Maxwell uses seasonal change to describe the shifts endured by couples. He sings, “Everything changes, everything moves/Nothing is as it was when you lose/the thoughts you fear, the way you feel.”
On “III,” Maxwell speaks of approaching a woman he sees in a club and says, “I just want a Michelle Obama lady/to hold me down when the world’s crazy.” His delivery and interaction with the band on the chorus creates the feel of a live performance. Maxwell then slows the pace down again with “Lake By the Ocean,” the smooth first single from the album that focuses on reassurance.
Later on, Maxwell moves to “Lost,” a Blues ballad that features guitars fit for a dramatic film. He matches the mood of the instrumentation by singing with the gloom of a man that’s been broken. Maxwell addresses a lost love of his and says, “In the waking hours, in the middle of the night/When the moon’s not just full, I see you in my eyes/I see you, and you haunt me/And you taunt me.” Maxwell follows the darkest moment of the album with a celebration of the one he loves on “Of All Kind.” Maintaining his signature falsetto throughout, he sings, “I love you like there’s no end in sight/You’re like a god in my mind.”
The last full song on the album is “Listen Hear,” in which Maxwell admits to the flaws that threaten his relationship. He sings, “I’m confusing at times/Sometimes I might lie/I’m scared and I’m shy/To show you just how weak I am.” Yet, he also says that his partner can be “in charge” when their bond is tested and that he’s sure the bond will remain strong. With this introspection, Maxwell finds the middle ground between the two preceding songs. He’s not on the high described in “Of All Kind,” nor is he lamenting the escape of this high the way he does on “Lost.” Maxwell comes across as someone who is grounded in the reality of a relationship and ready to handle it.
As a whole, Maxwell makes an impressive addition to his catalogue with blackSUMMERS’night. He succeeds in offering songs that fit well together without sounding repetitive in sound or message. Maxwell displays his range by alternating between his falsetto and a rougher tone, as well as his modal voice. He also has his vocal efforts matched by the skill of the musicians with whom he works. Ultimately, Maxwell lives up to the standard that he’s set for himself with this one.