Like many Maxwell fans, I breathlessly awaited the release of his latest CD on July 7. I pre-ordered on Amazon and ran to the mailbox everyday. is CD finally arrived over the weekend and I got a listen today. Here's my track by track assessment.
Bad Habits – The song is Maxwell sexy but the sound is a lot more organic that his previous work. There is an urgency in his voice but there's a difference. Maxwell is more matter of fact about his urgency, in the case of this song, the woman in question is a bad habit of his. The band is excellent on this cut. The sound is exactly the way you expect to hear it live at a club. The horn section is reminiscent of Roy Hargrove circa his RH Factor recordings.
Cold – the presentation is a bluesy funky sound. Of course the song is about a woman, and she is cold and Maxwell can't handle it. Vocally he's holding it down and working well with the instrumentation.
Pretty Wings – is a pretty ballad type song. This song was the first song officially released, the one fans have been listening to for months. On my first few listens I thought it sounded like a pop record but in further listening the track gets better as it goes on. I really appreciated it more after watching him perform it at an otherwise dreadful BET Awards.
Help Somebody – This is a favorite for me on this CD. Max is talking about stepping outside of one's self to make it better for someone else. I'm not used to hearing him do these kinds of songs but this foray into message music is excellent. The song is simple lyrically but the vocal paired with the music makes the listener feel the importance of the song's content.
Stop the World – I love this one. He's talking about how the world stops when he's with his girl. This a tribute song in it's purest form. Again, the presentation of the song is as if it is being performed live in a venue. Fantastic.
Love You – This is an up-tempo song with a slight rock tinge. It puts me in the mind of Purple Rain era Prince
Fistful of Tears – At moments this song is rock sounding and then a bass drops in to funk it up a bit. The song boils down to a girl who's left him in tears, he's effective at conveying his feelings.
Playing Possum – I like to call this song naked begging. For the most part Maxwell is begging this woman with only a rhythm section behind him with a drop in from trumpet. He makes the begging sound beautiful.
Phoenix Rise – This is an instrumental that I will probably play heavily. This is some Kool Jazz Festival type music. The synth is very modern but the band puts it down in a way that great bands used to do back in the day. What I'm wondering is if this last cut is indicative of what's to come on his next release. If so the next one will be all about moving your body.
Overall Maxwell still has the sweet vocals, he's still singing about love but has changed it up with the musicians backing him that at least in my ear are coming from the traditions of jazz, blues and rock with a little funk thrown in for good measure. He's also expanded it bit by including a message song on this set, which I really enjoyed. Folks may complain about the CD's length, but I find it to be a really tight, "no skip" collection of songs, refreshing in the crowd of these 20 song and interlude Opus' that some artists put out these days, which generally only boil down to a five or six choice cuts. It's a great CD for those who are ready to stretch out in the direction that Maxwell is going.