NOTE: Instead of the traditional player that Soul-Sides normally uses, I embedded audio of the full album to peruse. You should just be able to click on Music in the lower left and then click on the song of your choice.

From BLACKsummers’night (Columbia, 2009)

After a D’Angelo-like hiatus, Maxwell released his fourth studio album on July 7th. While he was away having new life experiences to write about, the soul music landscape has undergone quite a few changes. When Now, his last album, was released in 2001, neo soul was still making a small run at R&B marketshare and Jamie Foxx was just starting his run at more serious movie roles and not yet focused on topping charts. Today, the mainstream R&B front, on the whole, is more watered-down than ever (“Birthday Sex” – really, this is what it has come to???) and Jamie Foxx is making auto-tune hits.

This go-round, Maxwell’s coif is not blown out but he’s still blowing up the radio. The first single “Pretty Wings,” a ballad about letting go of a failing relationship, quickly shot to #1 on the urban charts. While the album does feature a couple of funky tunes, namely in the choppy horn groover “Cold,” it’s primarily a slow jam affair. Maxwell, with his ability to go from natural singing voice right into a smooth falsetto, is a master of vocal sensuality; some critics have even said he’s the premiere R&B vocalist of his generation.

Sensuality doesn’t always have to mean explicitly sexual-filled rants of play-by-(fore)play; there’s something to be said for leaving something to the imagination and allowing the sway of the music, vocal intonations, and bending of notes to open the door to the boudoir so YOU take care of bedroom business – not the singer getting you through every position before the first chorus. Marvin proved that to us years ago with his sexually-laden Let’s Get It On album. Along those lines, Maxwell knows that less can truly be more. In the school where he comes from, set the mood and the rest will take care of itself.