Friday 1 April 2016

'Urban Hang Suite' turns 20! (+ bonus live review!)

'Urban Hang Suite' - the debut album from soul superstar Maxwell - has the privilege of seeing its 20th Birthday on the 2nd April.

Released in 1996 amidst the new wave of contemporary (or neo-)soul releases, following D'Angelo's 'Brown Sugar' (released in 1995) and preceding Erykah Badu's 'Baduizm' (1997), Maxwell's style and sound drew heavily from early-80s soul and R&B: music from Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Prince were influences Maxwell wore openly on his sleeve.

These influences weren't just evident throughout the music on 'Urban Hang Suite' - Maxwell's whole aesthetic was an exciting throwback for a new generation.  The album's artwork, Maxwell's own giant fro... he was all in.  And we were too.

Spearheaded by the singles 'Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)', 'Sumthin Sumthin' and '...Til the Cops Come Knockin', 'Urban Hang Suite' boasts an awesome lineup of talent including the legendary Leon Ware, who co-writes on 'Sumthin Sumthin', Stuart Matthewman (of Sade and Sweetback glory) who graces much of the album with production and then there's the under sung contribution of Amp Fiddler who plays keyboards throughout.

'Urban Hang Suite' is a landmark album, regardless of which generation of soul music you may lean towards, and surely an essential purchase for even just the casual soul music fan.

Further to our Maxwell special, we've dug up this review from Maxwell's last visit to London, Friday 13th November 2009, following the release of 'BLACKsummer'snight' which you may enjoy...
With it having been 8 years(!) since ‘Now’, having the chance to see Maxwell perform on a stage this side of the pond seemed as unlikely as another studio album, but with the release of ‘BLACK’, my hopes were rekindled, and the dream finally came to fruition as the soul star graced the stage of the Hammersmith Apollo in November 2009.
Having been one of the shining stars of the neo-soul movement in the 1990s, it’s incredible to see the respect that he still commands within the genre that even after the ridiculously long hiatus between releases, he can still fill a ‘sold out’ Apollo at a cost of £45/ticket.
Fans were treated to a bevy of their favourites from past releases, including ‘Sumthin Sumthin’, ‘Get To Know Ya’, ‘Ascension’, as well as the song whose opening chords generated an explosive reaction... ‘This Woman’s Work’, before delving into tracks from his current studio release, with an unexpected energy from the smooth-talking crooner.  Amongst an incredible line-up of musicians, the London audience were also treated to the inclusion of Saunders Sermons and jazz pianist Robert Glasper – who had been touring with Maxwell in the States, so a pleasant surprise for him to cross the Pond as well.
With heart-warming sincerity, in between songs we were thanked more times than I can remember for continuing to embrace him “even after all this time”, but such humility was kicked out the door when it came to performing as the brash lover man declared in song, he wanted “to go down on his knees and eat you like some Japanese”, all to inviting shrieks from the female portion of the audience.
Seeing Maxwell adorn the stage at the Apollo, and hearing the screams of adulation, you can’t help but feel a certain buzz and excitement – no, not from the “Japanese” line – but the type of buzz you get when you know you’re experiencing something special.  And Maxwell is certainly that.  I have no doubts that in 10, 20, 30 years time, his name will be uttered amongst the greats that came before him.

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