Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, Maxwell



Maxwell was only 23 when his debut was released in 1996, and it’s hard to overestimate the courage and maturity it took to create an album like Urban Hang Suite at that time. It was not yet considered cool to look to the ‘70s for R&B inspiration, and Maxwell’s album sounded unlike anything else from its era. Part of that uniqueness comes from his good taste in collaborators, including producer-arranger Leon Ware, who had worked with Marvin Gaye on I Want You; guitarist Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin, a member of Motown house band the Funk Brothers; and Stuart Matthewson, a key player in Sade’s band. With its spellbinding aura and lush, all-encompassing soundscapes, Urban Hang Suite takes a little bit from all of the aforementioned artists. The album’s midsection — the sequence of songs that begins with “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and runs through “Whenever Wherever Whatever”— is especially potent. Maxwell’s debut inhabits its own niche space, outside of time and enmeshed in several strands of soul music history.


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