Concert preview: Singer Maxwell allows a rougher dynamic to surface on part two of his trilogy
Maxwell has long made a living constructing lush, sensuous R&B tracks as smooth as the surface of a remote pond on a windless spring day. But on the just-releasedblackSUMMERS'night (Columbia), the second part of a trilogy he started withBLACKsummers'night in 2009, the singer reveals a few rougher edges - particularly in his still-supple vocals.
"Let me feel something more than an ordinary night," he begs with near-sandpaper gruffness on "III," mirroring the narrator's increasing desperation. It's an approach well-suited to the material here, which has been shaped by life and rarely presents a pristine picture in turn. Witness "Lost," where the narrator is haunted by a former love who has moved on and discovered contentment in a new relationship. "I know you're happy and your children are grown up," Maxwell sings, his airy voice contrasting the narrator's heavy heart. "I don't know if I can go on."
"It's funny listening back and being like, 'I know I could do that again and sound so much clearer, but it feels better this way.' The music is rough, and I want it to be rough," said the progressive soul singer, who visits Palace Theatre for a concert on Monday, July 11. "'Lost' was written [in one take]. I never wrote it down, ever. It just sort of happened and it was done. 'Listen Hear' was the same way.
"I'm starting to get to that place in the creative process where that first thing [you record] is God talking - or whatever you believe in - and I think that's been a successful test I had to undergo because I can be quite the perfectionist. You don't want it to be so perfect it loses that natural humanity."
At this point in Maxwell's career, the singer's perfectionist tendencies have been well-documented.blackSUMMERS'night trailed its predecessor by seven years - a slight uptick in productivity compared with the eight-year lag betweenNow, from 2001, and the 2009 release ofBLACKsummers'night.
According to the musician, this time out of the spotlight is essential for allowing songs to grow and develop, which can occasionally mean sitting with a track long enough for it to sprout a few gray hairs of its own.
"Having that limelight during the writing period is not conducive to good music for me. I don't feel like I can connect with the kind of places I need to go to … if I'm not living a real life," Maxwell said. "I do feel I make something with integrity that has more to do with the songs than the sales or the celebrity. When it's time to do something, I'm ready. It's prepared. There's care in there. It's not going through the motions. I respect music and I respect the listener too much to play footsie with them. I like to make music that has some weight to it."
Regardless, the singer said he'd like to accelerate the timeline for releasing the final part of his trilogy, which will share a title with its predecessors, because, as he put it, "I'm not interested in releasing another album with the same title when I'm 50 years old." (Maxwell recently turned 43.)
Besides, the songs Maxwell has amassed for the concluding effort feel strangely connected to this era of civil and political unrest.
"It's night. It's black. It'll be touching on issues of race and orientation and sexism and misogyny," he said. "But [it's not done] in an activist, fight-the-power type of way. I feel like you can raise a fist in resistance, but you've also gotta raise a mirror and show people what they look like.
"Some of the topics I deal with, which will be very wide-ranging, will hopefully give people a certain amount of relief and sanctuary. Hopefully they'll be able to say, 'That's my story. That's what I've been through. And I have survived it and moved on.'"
7:30 p.m. Monday,
34 W. Broad St.,