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>Probably the most anticipated album in years was finally released about two weeks ago. I’m talking of course about Maxwell‘s “BLACKsummers’night, his first album in over 8 years. In today’s industry, going 8 years between albums is unheard of. Especially without releasing ANY material within that time frame, like a Greatest Hits or Live album or even a Remix or Duets album. And to be honest, at about year 4 I wasn’t sure if we’d ever hear another Maxwell CD again. It actually surprises me that his label allowed such a long break, but I guess it takes a truly dynamic and unique artist to get away with that. And Maxwell definitely fits the bill, and this album shows why.
Now, was the album worth the wait? Of course. The thing is, Maxwell is very much driving in his own lane. He’s true R&B, he’s never given in to gimmicks physically or musically to help sell records. And that definitely makes him stand out amongst all the rest of the R&B crooners out there. In fact he’s so beyond most of them, that he practically has no peers anymore. So if he was gone for 10 or 15 years, any album of his would be worth the wait because you aren’t going to get truly genuine R&B out of anybody else but him. At certain points, like the opening track “Bad Habits”, you can hear definite inspiration vocally from Marvin Gaye and Prince yet it never sounds like he is mocking their style, just adding hints into to his own very unique vocal delivery. And the writing on this album is pretty amazing. The album might seem on the surface like a Love Story, the musical accompaniment is very smooth and sweet R&B but the lyrical content illustrates a relationship gone terribly wrong thanks to a woman who turned so “Cold” (one of the stand out tracks on the album… “Global warming ain’t got nothing on this chic she’s not to play wit”). The albums first single “Pretty Wings” is a perfect example, one of the sweetest R&B songs you can imagine, except you get lyrics like “You toyed with my affliction, Had to fill out my prescription, Found the remedy, I had to set you free”.
I think the most exciting thing about Maxwell coming back is that we finally have an ARTIST in the record stores again. True artists are few and far between these days, you even have great artists that buckle under label pressure to conform to what is popular for radio play. Maxwell definitely delivered something that is thought provoking, and is simply great music. There are a few songs that maybe could use some work, but with only 9 songs at least everything works well together. And an additional note, whatever session band he used for this album (I did read that it was the band he normally tours with), they did an EXCELLENT job. In fact, I’d put the instrumentation on this album above the vocal and lyrical work he excelled at.

So, part of me thinks that last review was a little harsh on the other R&B dudes out there. Sure Anthony Hamilton still puts out quality R&B, Musiq Soulchild is up there just not necessarily on the same level. Stepping outside of the Neo-Soul realm, there aren’t many really great Male R&B Arists, and I say that simply because they all generally sound the same. And about 4 years ago I would have said the same thing about Ginuwine, who released his sixth album “A Man’s Thoughtsat the end of June. His previous album “Back II Basics” might have been good, but it seemed that since him and Timbaland parted ways earlier this decade, that he didn’t have much to offer the music world. He’s had the occasional hit since, but hasn’t put together a truly solid album since his sophomore 1999 album “100% Ginuwine”. “A Man’s Thoughts” finds Ginuwine in a much more mature place, don’t get me wrong there is definite filler, but for the most part it’s a pretty satisfying R&B record. Mainly because he’s not going through the cliched Male R&B concepts… “Your man ain’t nothing… get with me” or “I’m gonna sex you down like a (insert non-clever euphemism)” or “I cheated on you, so why won’t you forgive me”. This album he’s really talking about being with ONE woman, appreciating her, and owning up to responsibilities as a man. The true stand out, and probably one of the best songs he’s recorded in about 7 years, is the albums first single “Last Chance” a song about realizing what you have in a woman and doing whatever you can to make it work “I’m gonna do it, from a boy to a man, like Barrack and his plan — if this is my last chance to love you, I’m gonna play it like a grown man ought to”. Such a refreshing song to hear on the radio, although it’s unfortunate “Birthday Sex” is heating up the charts instead (I actually do like that song by the way). Good Job Ginuwine, not the greatest release of this year by any means but definitely a job well done on his part and something people should definitely check out.

Enough about guys, let’s talk about chicks man (LOL, “Soup” reference. GET IT?) Jordin Sparks has just released (today July 21st) her sophomore effort “Battlefield“. And yes, she did release a debut… it’s just without the huge hit of “No Air” with Chris Brown a lot of people probably didn’t even notice. Her debut was literally a paint by numbers pop album, and I’m not going to pretend her follow up isn’t. However, on this album you do get more of a sense of who exactly she is. She has definitely grown vocally, and mainly because she seems to bring a lot more attitude to her performances on this album. “Emergency (911)” might be the best example, it’s also a great example of how age-appropriate this album is. The song talks about a boyfriend who isn’t showing enough attention and the girlfriend who is practically begging for it and at the same time is giving him a final warning. Sparks definitely is treading the line of a teen Icon and a burgeoning adult Diva, and she does a fine job of not over stepping either line with the material on this album. Of course it is a pretty Safe pop album, covering all the basics. There’s a little Pop-lite Rock, there’s Pop-lite Dance and Pop-lite R&B. There’s even a few Whitney/Mariah type power ballads (specifically “Was I The Only One”). This isn’t a great album, but it doesn’t have anything on it that is terror to the ears. Sometimes you don’t need amazing material for people to notice you, just some sort of a personality on said material and she actually does a really fine job of bringing that out on this album finally. I’ve always been a Jordin fan from her days on Idol, I was pleased with her win (even though I was a bigger fan of Blake and Melinda) because she was the contestant with the highest chances for Pop Domination and she’s getting that much closer. I’d expect to hear her second single “SOS (Let the Music Play)” all over Pop radio in the coming weeks (though I could be wrong, because I predicted the albums title track would be huge and it’s slowly creeping up the charts)

And I’m DONE!!!
I might post a few more album reviews this week… i DO have a bunch to review that I’ve been really lazy about.