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Maxwell — Urban Hang Suite
Produced by MUZE & Stewart Mathewman

Being a bonafide fan of "old school" music, it really heartens me when a new jack comes along and makes an album I can really dig. Maxwell is that special kind of artist with so much talent that he makes you remember the first time you heard Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. If you were alive in 1996, you heard the lead off single Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder). The song sports a mean bass riff reminiscent of Maze and an itchy drum sequence that schizophrenically whacks you from the top of your head down to your chin. This is not a mere rehash of seventies funk. Maxwell is blazing a new path of his own. He is ably helped by the likes of Stewart Mathewman (of Sade) whose influence is strong on the The Urban Theme as he blows his sax to great effect. Leon Ware's contribution is obvious on the awesome Sumthin' Sumthin'. Although the ballads are not as strong as the fast tracks, Maxwell gives a tender performance on Whenever, Wherever, Whatever. Maxwell is the artist to watch as we approach the millennium.

More 1996 albums:

Chaka Khan — Epiphany: The Best of Chaka Khan
Compilation (Various Producers)
She's one of the best female singers ever.  This collection does a good job of capturing her best work. Includes Ain't Nobody (with Rufus) and I Feel For You.

Sting - Mercury Falling
Produced by Sting & Hugh Padgham
His best album since Nothing Like The Sun and that means it is really impressive!  Includes I Hung My Head and I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying.

Al Jarreau — The Best of Al Jarreau
Compilation (Various Producers)
I suppose this marks the end of his association with Warner Bros. which is unfortunate because of the impressive list of albums he's made with them.  No collection could capture all his best songs and this album certainly misses some.  It does contain the new songs Compared To What and Like A Lover.

Various Artists — The Songs of West Side Story
Produced by David Pack
I wasn't expecting a lot from this album but I was very pleasantly surprised.  It features an impressive list of artists including Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins and James Ingram.  I really like Selena's Boy Like That.

Soundtrack — The Preacher's Wife
Various Producers
Whitney Houston showcases her gospel roots and she will blow you away.  Features fine arrangements by Mervyn Warren (formely of Take 6).  I especially like I Love The Lord.

Babyface — The Day
Produced by Babyface
A let down from his impressive For The Cool In You album.  The standout songs here are Seven Seas and the remake of For The Lover In You.

Toni Braxton — Secrets
Various Producers
A let down from her debut, Toni maintains the same formula.  The standouts are You're Makin' Me High and Un-break My Heart.

George Benson — That's Right
Various Producers
Another multi-genre album from GB.  It features some nice instrumentals, some upbeat grooves and some ballads.  Includes Holdin' On.

Lionel Richie — Louder Than Words
Produced by Lionel Richie, James Anthony Carmichael, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and David Foster
After a long self imposed exile, the king of the crooners is back!  An uneven effort overall with the best song being the Commodores-era throwback Don't Wanna Lose You.