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‘BlackSUMMERS’night’ review: Second installment sleek, well-crafted

Maxwell's

Maxwell's "blackSUMMER'snight" is the second installment of a trilogy of albums. Photo Credit: Columbia Records

THE GRADE A-

BOTTOM LINE Another slice of timeless neo-soul

Maxwell isn’t all that concerned with timeliness.

When the neo-soul pioneer launched his “BLACKsummers’night” trilogy in 2009, no one really expected him to take seven years to release the next installment. But the second part, “blackSUMMERS’night” (Columbia), is so sleek and well-crafted that it’s hard to complain.

The first single, “Lake by the Ocean,” is really the only track that seems touched by current sounds and sadly that’s because of all the current tributes to the late Prince. Between Maxwell’s falsetto and the laid-back funk groove, “Lake by the Ocean” has the feel of early Aughts New Power Soul, though this was likely in the works long before the Purple One’s untimely death.

On “III,” there are current references to Michelle Obama and the High Line park, but it comes in a joyful, horn-punctuated smooth dance number that could have come from Marvin Gaye.

The rest of “blackSUMMERS’night” feels just as timeless, as if it could have come from any point in the past two decades of neo soul. That has to be by design, especially in gorgeous throwback soul tracks like “1990x,” with its lush string arrangements and its beats tinged with trip-hop.

However, harder-hitting songs like “Hostage” show how Maxwell has sharpened his sound. In his earlier work, he would have ridden this dreamy groove all the way through, as he repeats, “I am falling hostage,” but there’s a soulful bit of uncharacteristic fire in the bridge that breaks things up before settling into another dreamy groove.

Maxwell was originally known for crafting his “urban hang” suites, more about building atmospheres than individual pop songs. Sure, he had his breakthroughs — notably, his version of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” and the Grammy-nominated “Pretty Wings.” But with “blackSUMMERS’night,” he has managed to create a stronger collection of songs that work separately and together to build that well-known Maxwell mood.

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