Although Soul singer Maxwell has enjoyed stratospheric success as a silky and powerful R&B artist since the mid-’90s, there’s an argument that his career has suffered from classic mismanagement and a slight case of squandered potential. Since ’96, his output has consisted of just four studio albums and a live EP. In fairness, that catalog has generated 12 Grammy nominations and two wins.
Columbia doubted the commercial value of Maxwell’s classic debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, and held it for more than a year. After its release, the album exploded with its second single, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder).” The album eventually notched double platinum numbers. The following year, Maxwell performed on MTV’s Unplugged and wanted to officially release the show as an album, but Columbia again balked. The label allowed a seven-song EP of the sessions instead.
In 1998, Maxwell stumbled with his sophomore studio album, Embrya, which generated poor reviews yet still moved a million units, but in 1999, he recorded R. Kelly’s composition “Fortunate” for the film Life. The single became Maxwell’s most successful. In 2001, Maxwell released Now, which also took its share of critical abuse but became his first No. 1 album. Maxwell then dropped out for eight years, reemerging with BLACKsummers’night.
It’s now another five years later, and Maxwell has yet to follow up BLACKsummers’night with the second and third parts of his proposed trilogy.
Maxwell remains a strong R&B contender with the contemporary magnetism of R. Kelly and the pure classicism of Marvin Gaye, but he has yet to establish a consistent pattern of success. He told Rolling Stone recently that he’ll be road-testing songs from his anticipated new “cyborg-ish” album, so this current “Summer Soulstice” tour could be a defining moment in a career that’s already on the cusp of his 20th anniversary.
MAXWELL plays The Shoe at Horseshoe Casino Saturday, July 18. Tickets/more info here .