Hot new R&B hits the shelves for summer


Maxwell BLACKsummer’s night Columbia Records

Attention all neo-soul artists!

Maxwell has pretty much cemented the blueprint for you all on how to navigate your post-breakout/second-stage success.

Erykah Badu is excused from this meeting because she’s in a freaky “Mothership Connection”-style class all by her fabulously freaky self. But everybody else needs to listen up.

Follow Maxwell’s playbook step by step. Put out one or two great albums, then drop off the map for anywhere from five to eight years. Let your fans and the record-buying public miss you for a while. Then, just when most casual listeners have all but forgotten about you, come back with a damn-near flawless new record. And that record only has nine songs on it. Why? Because you don’t need 10.

On “BLACKsummer’s night,” Maxwell is restaking his claim as one of the foremost soul-singing heartthrobs of the genre, and making it look just too effortless and easy in the process. The best surprises come when Maxwell flexes outside of the standard neo-soul comfort zone, like on the atmospheric yet gritty funk of “Love You” and “Cold.” He also incorporated some modern flavor without losing his fleshed-out grooves on the peppy synth-laced instrumental “Phoenix Rise.”

But it’s being one of the smoothest cats in the game that keeps Maxwell on track to someday being the closest thing this generation has to Marvin Gaye. And to that effect, ultra-stripped-down and soulful tracks like “Stop The World” and “Playing Possum” seem perfectly at home next to some of the more lush slow-burners like “Pretty Wings” and “Fistful of Tears.”

As it stands right now, the only person who stands a chance of stealing Maxwell’s considerable quiet thunder is D’Angelo, and even then he’s going to have to go back to the drawing board to top this effort.

— Larry Nichols

Ciara Fantasty Ride La face Records

Ciara’s new pop album, “Fantasy Ride,” speaks for itself. The very talented singer/dance phenom’s latest effort takes you on the ride of your life with A-list guest artists along for the trip, including Justin Timberlake in “Love Sex Magic,” Ludacris in “High Price,” Chris Brown in “Turntables,” Young Jeezy in “Never Ever,” The Dream in “Lover’s Thing” and Missy Elliott in “Work.”

Given her reputation for tearing up the dance floor, of course Ciara has some songs that will have you jumping out of your seat. But there are also songs on “Fantasy Ride” that prove how she has grown musically.

Two of the best songs on the album are “Never Ever” and “Like A Surgeon.” The former is about being in a long-term relationship with someone who hasn’t expressed his/her love for you. Who hasn’t been there before, wondering if they are going to ever love you? Yes, it’s a timeworn subject in R&B, but Ciara really makes you feel it like it’s happening to you for the first time.

The single “Like A Surgeon” is a sultry slow-burner in which Ciara convincingly boasts about how she feels when it comes to love and how she’s an expert, leaving her patients stable and content.

Ciara has definitely stepped up her game since her first album, “Goodies.” “Fantasy Ride” not only shows how Ciara has matured as a young artist, but also how she has matured vocally.

LaKisha Jones So Glad I’m Me Starstruck Management

Who would have thought that someone who didn’t win “American Idol” would still give the show a huge shout-out on her latest album?

Jones’ first full-length album, “So Glad I’m Me,” tells the story of a talented “American Idol” hopeful and mother with a dream of becoming well-known in the music industry. Here, she expresses how grateful she is to do what she always wanted to do — sing.

Her rousing remake of Whitney Houston’s classic “You Give Good Love” shows how truly soulful she is as an R&B artist.

The album also expresses how glad she is that she can be herself and how much her daughter means to her.

While many people let a little bit of fame go to their heads, Jones’ effort shows she hasn’t forgotten those who helped her on her path to success: She is truly an inspiration, striving to do what she loves the most and not giving up.

“So Glad I’m Me” is a breakthrough album for Jones.

— Khaliff Featherstone