It’s been four years since neo-soul icon Maxwell performed in San Antonio behind BLACKsummers’night, his first album after an eight-year sabbatical and the opening installment of his highly anticipated R&B trilogy. This time around though, the first thing he wants to talk about is hoops, more specifically, the NBA champion Spurs.
“Obviously, I love basketball a lot,” says Maxwell via telephone. “I’m more of a player person. I like the players because I know some people who are on various teams, so I can’t really ever play politics. Just going to a winning-only town basically with Tony Parker and Duncan and all those cats, I’m excited.”
Like some Spurs, Maxwell has also battled with injury, and come back stronger than ever. Two years ago, the Brooklyn native scratched an ambitious tour of back-to-back-nights after developing serious vocal chord swelling and hemorrhaging. After successful surgery, he was back in the studio and within months recorded “The Fire We Make,” a steamy duet with Alicia Keys featured on her 2012 album Girl on Fire.
“I feel really good for an old guy,” Maxwell, 41, says with a laugh. “My heart is beating. My blood pressure is normal. It’s a great band right now, a good crew of people. I’m pretty energized about the album more than anything and how it’s gonna roll out.”
Maxwell’s forthcoming Summers represents the second portion of the trilogy, an album that’s currently receiving its finishing touches on tour. After the premature death of his younger cousin from a heart attack, the singer revisited his work from a new perspective.
Musically, Summers also features a fresh approach. “It’s everything under the sun,” explains Maxell. “There’s gospel stuff. There’s a lot of hi-fi alternative techno type things. It’s just kind of a merger of the old soul classic feel with the new hybrid sort of things that I like. It’s coming together really nice. I could not be happier.”
As an 18-year veteran of the music business, Maxwell still sounds optimistic about the evolution of rhythm & blues. “In R&B, it comes and it goes,” says Maxwell. “Trends come, new types of music happen, but at the end of the day, everybody knows that it’s kind of like home cooking. You can go to McDonalds or [another] fast food spot and you can generally pretty much enjoy it. But there’s nothing like some good ole chicken, and rice and beans, and some plátanos. Nothing like having that wholesome soul food, and that’s how I look at soul music.”
For his Summer Solstice tour, Maxwell has already made 30 stops across the country, brandishing his signature falsetto. He credits the road for keeping him on task when it comes to recording, and is already working on the Night conclusion to his trilogy. Maxwell admits that if it wasn’t for the current tour, fans might not be receiving a new album for another year or two.
“You can rush and fail or you can take your time and succeed,” says Maxwell, sagely. “With so many albums that we released in the past being what they were, there’s a lot of people who like what we did. So you just want to keep that level of performance moving and going. You also want to be reflective of who you are as a person now.
“That’s why I kind of go away,” reveals Maxwell, “Then I get to find people like [D.C. neo-soul singer Nick Hakim] and listen to music and fall in love with making music on just a pure level. Not just about how many number ones can I get, how many radio stations am I on, how many sponsorships. I don’t care about that. I like to come back inspired. Come back like the guy who walked in the desert and came back. I want to come back with a story to tell.”
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