Arguably the most celebrated new Soul Music artist to emerge in the mid-90s, Maxwell arose as a curious combination of romanticism and sexuality, of spirituality and sensuality, much like Marvin Gaye a generation earlier. His three studio albums and one live album were huge and he remains a revered, somewhat enigmatic figure a decade after his arrival.
The Brooklyn-born Maxwell made an auspicious debut in 1996 with Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, an ambitious album that recalled some of Gaye's mid-70s output, interestingly including collaborations with Leon Ware, who was the mastermind behind Gaye's I Want You. The disc hit a nerve with soul music fans, bridging old and new schoolers with its unadulterated romanticism and irresistible grooves. The single "Ascension" could've been a hit in 1976 or 2006, and it - and strong word of mouth - catapulted the album to platinum status.
Maxwell followed Hang Suite with a well received Unplugged album before releasing Embrya, an even less conventional album that shot to the top of the R&B charts and into the Pop top 5. Around that time he also covered R. Kelly's "Fortunate," a decent that was made magical by Maxwell's fabulous, Prince-like performance. It topped the R&B charts and gave him his biggest crossover hit.
It was three more years before Maxwell released Now, his first across-the-board number one disc and another fine collection. It spawned the hit "Lifetime" and enlarged his already revered status.
Following Now Maxwell virtually disappeared, leaving his legion of fans starving for more. In late 2006 he announced he would be recording a series of albums for release in 2007. Delays continued, though, and the first music, the single "Pretty Wings," was released in early 2009. Maxwell ended his album drought with, BLACKsummers' Night, in July 2009. It debuted at #1 and boasted the largest first week sales of his career. It ultimately went platinum and won for Maxwell multiple awards, including Album of the Year at the SoulTracks Readers' Choice Awards.
By Chris Rizik