Friday, July 03, 2009

Maxwell's Welcome Return

Next Tuesday, July 7, soul crooner and sexy groover Maxwell releases his first album in eight years. And, yeah, I’m excited. I follow so few artists or bands these days, so the highly-anticipated return of Maxwell is something worth writing about – especially since Friday nights are often “music night” here at the Wild Reed.

Of course, regular readers would know that this is not the first time I’ve highlighted the talented Maxwell – who first rose to both prominence and acclaim in the late 1990s for not only his smooth and sultry ballads (like “Whenever, Wherever, Whatever” and his beautiful cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work”) but also his funky and sexy uptempo numbers (such as “NoOne” and “Sumthin’ Sumthin’”).

Last October, for instance, I posted about how my friend LeMonté and I attended a Maxwell concert at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. It was a great show - and my pictures of it turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, I was in the supermarket about two weeks ago when I spied on the magazine rack near the checkout a copy of Jet magazine with Maxwell on the cover. Here’s a brief excerpt from Jet’s cover story:

Maxwell says he knows leaving the music scene for eight years was a gamble. But he had no choice. He says he needed to step back, get out of the spotlight and live for himself.

“I took a minute to experience the ‘everydayness’ of life,” he explains. “I am just grateful that I got a chance to come back and people didn’t forget and they still care. I couldn’t be happier.”

His fans have indeed waited for him and have embraced his comeback. His single “Pretty Wings” and its video have set the stage for his highly anticipated CD, BLACKsummers’night, which is released July 7. It’s his first CD since [his third album] Now debuted at No. 1 on Billboard music charts in 2001.

The CD reunites Maxwell with his longtime collaborator Hod David and is the first installment in a trilogy of CDs. The next installments are slated for release in 2010 and 2011.

. . . Last year, he returned to center stage in the BET Awards’ tribute to soul legend Al Green in a rare TV appearance. He followed that with his first tour in six years – will all 144,000 tickets selling out within minutes, prompting promoters to extend the tour from 26 cities to 33 cities.

. . . Unlike other entertainers, he says he is not married to the limelight – that’s why he was able to take a break. “I live a real life, I am not scared outside of the spotlight. Fame comes and goes so fast. Stars are stars, but they are not artists. I hope that people see me as an artist. The music is all that really matters to me.”

A young African-American woman, a colleague of mine during my teaching days at the College of St. Catherine, first introduced me to the music of Maxwell in 1998, when she lent me his second album, Embrya, to listen to. Then when Now was released in 2001, I didn’t hesitate to buy it. (The album cover alone is worth the price of the CD!)

As odd as it sounds, Maxwell’s 1996 debut album, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, escaped my attention until last year. I definitely got to know it, however, during my two month-long visit back to Australia beginning last November, as I often played it late at night as I drove my parents’ car back to their place in Port Macquarie after visiting my brother and his family who live about twenty minutes out of town. Given that my parents’ own a BMW, it was always a very smooth trip. Now whenever I hear certain tracks from this equally smooth album, it’s hard not to think of the dark Australian bushland and crisp urban nightscape of Port Macquarie illuminated by car headlights.

Anyway, following is a clip of Maxwell singing one of my favorite of his songs, “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” (from Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite), on The Chris Rock Show in 1997. Enjoy!

Following are excerpts Seattle Times’ reporter Marian Liu’s recent interview with Maxwell, accompanied by images of the singer from different times in his career.

Marian Liu: Why the wait?

Maxwell: I really needed time to be a person. People think, “Why would you not release music and not be famous?” I just had a good time not having the pressure of celebrity and expectation. Songs are not on a conveyor belt. I’m not chopping them up and putting them out. It takes real life to go through it. I knew I just could come out with some raggedy whatever record, but for me it had to be noteworthy, from the heart, blood and soul.

Marian Liu: How did you grow in these years away from the spotlight?

Maxwell: I got to have relationships. I met girls who didn’t even know who I was. What a great ego levelizer. It was a lot realer. I had real relationships and did not have the celebrity to distort my perception of myself.

Marian Liu: How does this album reflect that growth?

Maxwell: I’m really maturing into soul music. It’s not my attempt or karaoke try. I feel like I really embody the music now that I am 36. Most of my people that I love the most, this is when they were making their greatest records. I’ve been making grown-man music, but I was this kid making music that sounded so mature. Now, I’m a real man doing it. ... I hope to make music that touches [real people’s] spirit.

Marian Liu: Why a trilogy of albums?

Maxwell: After going through my life experience, I have material for the next 10 years. These records are split up. They have certain attitudes and personality. The first one is moodier, broodier. The second has a gospel, uplifting vibe. The third is all ballads. I just wanted to make up for lost time. At the same time, I wanted to do something that has never been done before. I think the world needs an epic, ambitious grouping for its single-driven market.

Marian Liu: When it comes to romance, what are you like and what do you look for?

Maxwell: I’m pretty sensitive. My feelings get hurt a lot easier than people think, but I try take it all with grain of salt. For a relationship, I want someone who is really secure, confident and fulfilled, not tripping with what I do. . . . It’s just funny — being away from everything, you just want to be accepted and seen and regarded as a human.

Marian Liu: You seem pretty grounded.

Maxwell: Eight years does that to you. If in a year, you and I get the chance to talk, and my head is way more inflated than this conversation, you have my full permission to take a pen out and pop that sucker.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Return of Maxwell
Maxwell in Concert

Recommended Off-site Link:
Maxwell - “Til the Cops Come Knocking”

Previous artists featured on “Music Night at the Wild Reed”:
The Church, Pet Shop Boys and Dusty Springfield, Wall of Voodoo, Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy, Pink Floyd, Kate Ceberano, Judith Durham, Wendy Matthews, Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1927, Mavis Staples, Maxwell, Joan Baez, Tee Set, Darren Hayes, Wet, Wet, Wet, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Cruel Sea, Shirley Bassey, Loretta Lynn & Jack White, Foo Fighters, Jenny Morris, Kate Bush, Rufus Wainwright, and Dusty Springfield.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Maxwell...can't wait for Tuesday for the album! Have y’all heard about this singer named K’Jon, he has that song “On The Ocean” …he gives that Maxwell vibe…yall should check him out at