I’d been waiting for Maxwell’s return for what seemed like forever.  Yesterday, after an eight-year hiatus, he released his fourth studio album, BLACKsummers’ night.  This highly anticipated album is the first installment of a trilogy—the other two albums, which have already been named are set for release in 2010 and 2011.  The second album, blackSUMMERS’ night will be more gospel influenced and the third, blacksummers’ NIGHT will be a slow jam album.  When it rains, it pours, huh, Maxwell?

So last night, I purchased the nine songs off of Maxwell’s album (ITunes is really forcing it with the $1.29/per song charge by the way) and I have to say, I had doubts about this album.  It had been hyped up for the last three months or so and I was worried that the album wouldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations.  I first heard Maxwell was working on his new project last year.  Rumors had been circulating that he had finished recording a few years ago, but his record label Sony had gripes with some of the content and kept pushing back the release date.  But after the success of  “Pretty Wings,” the pre-album single, the music industry’s interest in Maxwell’s return intensified.  However, I had to balance my own excitement for Maxwell’s return with some caution, which is why I decided to buy one song at a time.  But before I knew it, I had his entire album and had already listened to each song several times.

BLACKsummers’ night is about exactly what I hoped it would be.  The album’s classic neo-soul vibe is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly suffocating, over produced, contemporary R&B atmosphere.  Collaborating with long-time writing partner and guitarist, Hod David, Maxwell creates a product that is reminiscent of his earlier work yet distinctive enough to excite his fans.  Put simply, BLACKsummers’ night is an upgraded version of his previous work.  It is dynamic, elegant and passionate.  Mid-tempo songs like “Stop the World” (my favorite) and “Bad Habits” play into Maxwell’s familiar sensuousness, while “Playing Possum” is a lovely display of lyrics and vocals on top of acoustic simplicity.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to an R&B album in which the music, vocals, and lyrics were all outstanding.  Perhaps it is a signal that taking a break in between albums is not such a bad idea.  It certainly makes the music stand on its own, separate from previous works.  I also noticed that artists who take time in between projects make music that contrasts with that of their contemporaries.  Examples: Jay’s Blueprint (released two years after the previous album), Jill Scott’s Beautifully Human (released five years after the previous album), Kanye’s Graduation (released two years after the previous album), Prince’s Musicology (released three years after the previous album), and the list goes on.  Whitney Houston’s sixth studio album is set to release this fall, seven years after her last album.  And to top that, D’Angelo is also scheduled to make his comeback this year, after a nine-year hiatus.

Yes, waiting for the artists we love is hard, but it sure is worth it when they meet and surpass our expectations!