Jukebox: Legend, Maxwell on tap at the Palace

Call it the Palace of Soul, or maybe neo-soul. Singer John Legend visits Albany’s Palace Theatre (19

Call it the Palace of Soul, or maybe neo-soul.

Singer John Legend visits Albany’s Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave.) on Saturday, and Maxwell follows on Tuesday.

Both loom large in the development of neo-soul; i.e., black pop music unrelated to hip-hop but instead inspired by the technical finesse, straightforward grooves and uplifting, sincere sentiments of 1970s Southern (specifically Memphis) soul music.

Maxwell (born Maxwell Rivera in 1973 in Brooklyn) was out there first, recording his debut album “Urban Hang Suite” in 1994, though his record label didn’t release it until 1996. Maxwell’s hiatus from 2001’s “Now” album to the new “BLACKsummer’s night” arguably created a vacuum that the younger Legend (born John Stephens in 1978 in Springfield, Ohio) at least partially filled in 2004 with his multi-Grammy debut “Get Lifted.”

Both lost their fathers while young: Maxwell’s died in a plane crash when he was 3 and Legend’s parents divorced when he was 10. Both became self-directed and success-bound, Maxwell through the New York City R&B club scene and Legend through the a cappella group Counterparts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Strong mentors

Both launched their careers with strong mentors: Maxwell recorded his debut album with Marvin Gaye’s producer Leon Ware and veteran guitarist Wah Wah Watson, while Legend met Kanye West through West’s cousin — and Legend’s Penn roommate Devon Harris (Devo Springsteen) — and sang on West’s breakthrough album “The College Dropout” before West returned the favor to produce many tracks on Legend’s three albums: “Get Lifted” (2004), “Once Again” (2006) and “Evolver” (2008).

The multi-Grammy success of “Get Lifted” brought Legend many opportunities to collaborate with other artists, including Will.I.Am’s “Yes We Can” and a rumored project with Michael Jackson, and to play such high-profile gigs as the Grammys, the pre-Super Bowl (XL) pre-game show, at half-time of the 2006 NBA All-Star game, the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star game and “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration.”

Maxwell review

To read Gazette music writer David Singer’s review of the Maxwell show, click here

Maxwell’s comeback from a hiatus surprisingly came about through a high-profile performance. And if the hiatus itself after three platinum albums — “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” (1996), “Emrya” (1998) and “Now” (2001) — confused his fans, his comeback is one of those magical show-biz moments that everyone understood and welcomed. Invited to sing Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful” at the BET awards last year, he was a smash deluxe. Maxwell launched a concert tour soon afterward, skipping the usual step of recording a new album.

At this year’s BET awards, he introduced “Pretty Wings,” which would soon be released on his new album “BLACKsummer’s night” — the first of three planned through next year. A touching breakup song, “Pretty Wings” is every bit as graceful and poignant as Richard Thompson’s great and similarly named “Beeswing.” With that beautiful statement of strength despite aching loss as its emotional and sonic center, the album erects peaks and valleys around it.

Maxwell told The New York Times that he feels his mission is “to say something that can be said all the time, no matter when,” adding that doing so takes time, unlike the frantic half-life of hip-hop. Both Maxwell and Legend will play the Palace with 11-piece bands, favoring the burly, bluesy sound of 1970s Memphis soul and packing hefty horn sections, as well as guitars, keyboards and drums.

Show time for John Legend is 8 p.m. on Saturday, when his younger brother Vaughn Anthony opens. Tickets are $54.50, $47.50 and $39.50. Phone 465-4663 or visit www.palacealbany.com.

Show time for Maxwell is 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Tickets are $125, $59.50 and $39.50.

Eitzel At WAMC

Mark Eitzel records with his post-punk band the American Music Club, as a solo artist, with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and in various other collaborations. He performs alone on Wednesday at WAMC, bringing songs strong enough to work in any setting and a voice that echoes Tom Waits’ edgy down-and-out-ism and Elvis Costello’s proud but inviting dramatics.

Show time for Mark Eitzel is 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Admission is $20. Phone 465-5233, ext. 4, or visit www.wamcarts.org.

Folk/bluegrass at WAMC

On Sunday, Kate Taylor (yes, one of those mighty musical Taylors: James, Livingston, Hugh and their late brother Alex) headlines the WAMC Folk/Bluegrass Night, a benefit for the station.

Also performing will be Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys, fresh from the triumph of their new album “So Far So Good;” Betty and the Baby Boomers; and Bates + Barr, the duo of Bob Bates and Nick Barr. Barr will also co-host with Hudson River Sampler host and singer-songwriter Wanda Fischer.

Show time for WAMC Folk/Bluegrass Night is 6 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $25.

Reach Gazette Columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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