Right now

Sep 26, 2001 at 12:00 am

When I interviewed Maxwell last year, he talked about a vision of his third album striking a balance between the commercial appeal of his first and the experimentation of his second. He was frank in acknowledging that he used his sophomore set to take fans on an eclectic ride, confusing many of them in the process. Luckily, R. Kelly saved him by writing the radio-friendly single “Fortunately.”

Now is Maxwell’s moment of truth. He knows you might be a little leery of him. And while you take long walks with Jill and talk love with Musiq Soulchild, Maxwell responds to your cynicism by slipping in the most consistent release of his career. Now is certainly his most sophisticated and mature work. It may be a stretch to call it his best album, because his music goes in so many directions. But it’s good enough to make a debate. Filtered between the hope of “Lifetime,” the demand for the covered cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” and the confidence of “Get Ta Know Ya,” is the consistency Maxwell predicted during our talk.

“I can’t let my life pass me by/I can break down and try/Work it all out this lifetime.” He settles into himself on this album. That’s a place many artists never get to, the point where they accept their own talent, and separate themselves from the pressure to compete. You might like a collection of songs to stroke your muse and help you feel a little more deeply. It’s on Now. Play it with your lover, and it’s on now.

Maxwell performs Oct. 9 and 10 at Fox Theatre. Find details in What's Happening.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].