Every Maxwell studio album – and there have only been five in 20 years – is treated like an event of great musically historical significance. The neo-soul forefather’s latest, black SUMMERS’night (Columbia) is no exception. Arriving seven years after its predecessor BLACKsummers’night, the 12-track disc doesn’t vary much from the formula that made what came before so appealing and enduring, including drawing on the influence of the late Prince. Maxwell looks towards club play with the soulfully sexy “All The Ways That Love Can Feel” which could benefit from just the right remix. In fact, Maxwell makes intriguing use of organic beats to drive home his message on “The Fall” and “III.” Retro soul and neo-soul blend throughout and are especially spellbinding on “Hostage,” “Gods,” “Fingers Crossed,” “Of All Kind” and the improvised-in-the-studio “Lost.”
The perversely prolific R. Kelly is the excessive polar opposite of the reserved Maxwell. Even after having his name linked to various sexual scandals, Kelly doesn’t rein it in in the least. Instead he serves up the unappetizing The Buffet (RCA). Kelly should have his poetic license revoked for calling the embarrassing recitation that opens the disc “The Poem,” and then follows it with “Poetic Sex,” a song that includes the line, “My lyrics got a big dick and I just fucked the shit out of y’all.” Keepin’ it classy, Kelly. If you aren’t too nauseated to continue listening then you’ll probably be able to stomach junk such as “Let’s Make Some Noise,” “Marching Band,” “Sextime” and “Get Out Of Here With Me.” Kelly actually zips his fly long enough to perform the vintage vibe of “All My Fault,” the only song worth hearing on the whole album.
Life On Earth (eOne/MyBlock), the new studio disc from Musiq Soulchild is something of a disappointment. With the exception of the Stevie Wonder-ful “Change My Mind,” the uplifting soul-pop of “Alive And Well,” the JoiStaRR duet on “Part of Me” and the spacey title track, the album is generally a bore. One indistinguishable song
LIVING OUT • 29 READ MORE AT LIVINGOUTLI.ORG A Curtis Mayfield for the 21st century, Bilal is back with the exceptional In Another Life (eOne/Purpose). As forward-looking as he is respectful of his roots, Bilal effortlessly conjures modern and retro soul, often in the same song. Teaming up with acclaimed producer Adrian Younge, Bilal had made his most thrilling and evocative album. Beginning with the ominous “Sirens II,” In Another Life is a musical journey through time and textures. Both Marvin Gaye and Prince are summoned on “Pleasure Toy.” “Satellites” soars, “Lunatic” lives up to its name, the Kimbra duet “Holding It Back” delights and “Bury Me Next To You” brilliantly brings the disc to a close.
On the day that this review of Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals’ new album Call It What It Is (Stax) is being written, the country is reeling from the deaths of two African-American men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – at the hands of white police officers. The chorus of the title track of the disc, “callit what it is/murder,” a tragically timely blues number that mentions Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and Michael Brown by name while calling out “government, policing, hard times, oppression, racism, fear, suffering” could be the unintentional anthem of the summer and the election season. “How Dark Is Gone,” “Finding Our Way,” “Bones” and “Dance Like Fire” convey similar sentiments.
Admit it, the first time you heard the song “7 Years,” you thought, “Who could that brother be who is singing?” Admit it, when you found out that it was Lukas Graham, a bunch of white guys, from Denmark no less, you shook your head. Still, you have to give the band credit for sounding so convincingly blue eyed-soulful. In fact, most of Lukas Graham’s eponymous Warner Brothers disc does a spectacular job of sounding as black as it wants to be. Take “Mama Said,” for example, which, like Jay-Z did with “Hard Knock Life,” samples “It’s The Hard Knock Life” from Annie. There’s also a bit of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” interpolated in “Better Than Yourself (Criminal Mind Pt. 2).” But it’s the sung-rap of “Happy Home,” classic R&B vibe of “Drunk In The Morning,” the Motown-y “Strip No More” and the bluesy “Funeral” that give the album it’s soul credibility.
On Stereotypes (Universal Classics/Deutsche Gramophon), violinists Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste of Black Violin take classical and soul to a whole other level. The 11 originals and one cover (Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Walk On By”), most of which are sung by Baptiste, are examples of the ways in which different musical genres can coexist. Singer Melanie Fiona provides the vocals on “Send Me A Sign” and jazz pianist Robert Glasper can be heard on “Stay Clear.” Speaking of Glasper, on Everything’s Beautiful (Columbia/Blue Note/Legacy), he “reimagines” Miles Davis tunes with collaborators such as the aforementioned Bilal, as well as Stevie Wonder, Laura Mvula, Erykah Badu, King and Ledisi.