Although he seems new on the scene, Anthony Hamilton has actually been around the block a few times, releasing a commercially unsuccessful album (XTC) in 1996 and even two other albums that went unreleased because his record companies went under both times. After backing D’Angelo on his 2000 Voodoo tour, Hamilton caught the eye of Jermaine Dupri, who signed him and co-produced this album, an easy contender for “R&B Album Of 2003”. I discovered this album when it appeared on several such lists, actually, and I’m pleased to announce that the hype is largely justified. Perhaps the album offers little in the way of variety, with most low-key songs grooving along at a seductive mid-tempo pace, and the songwriting is sometimes more generic than I’d like as well. However, usually it’s spot on, and Hamilton has all the right influences, including D’Angelo (Hammond organ-led head bobbin’ grooves), Al Green and Prince (a creamy falsettoand excellent use of female backing singers), and Bill Withers (a smooth, laid-back storytelling style). However, his highly personal lyrics and an impressive vocal range that can go high (vulnerable), mid-range (smooth), or low (providing a gritty urban edge) ultimately makes this album Hamilton’s own singular statement rather than a mere homage to his heroes. His mature lyrics concern the commitment and hard work that’s necessary for maintaining intimate relationships, many of which break down during the course of this hard won album. However, he also writes odes to his mom (“Mama Knew Love”), collard greens (“Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens”), sex (as opposed to love, on “Float”), and even an intensely autobiographical reminisce about tough times growing up in a tough neighborhood (the bluesy title track). Other notable tracks are the poorly titled “Since I Seen't You,” a sexy, soulful love song, “Charlene” a regret-filled love ballad with a silky smooth chorus, and “My First Love,” a dramatic duet with LaToiya Williams with powerhouse vocal performances by both. Like most modern r&b (or “neo soul”) albums, this one isn’t immediately or obviously hooky, but requires repeat listens before it slowly insinuates itself into one’s subconscious. Once there, however, it’s hard to shake, as this is a smart, accomplished album by a modest man (read the oh so thankful liner notes) who's grateful for a long overdue opportunity. Knowing that he has something to prove, Hamilton lays it all on the line for all to hear, and after its enjoyable 50+ minutes are over you’ll have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be comin’ from where Anthony Hamilton is from.
Ain't Nobody Worryin' (Arista ’05) Rating: B+
Comin’ From Where I’m From was a surprising platinum success (it was a steady seller due to word of mouth plaudits rather than a blockbuster based on smash hits), so his record company saw fit to release a disc of previously unreleased recordings called Soullife before Hamilton delivered Ain't Nobody Worryin', which isn't quite as impressive as its predecessor but which is impressive nevertheless. It looks like Hamilton is in it for the long haul, as he delivers another set of honest, heartfelt, spiritual, Southern-tinged, relationship-obsessed songs that are generally (but not always) uplifting in nature. Musically, the album's organic sound is lush yet earthy, with warm late night keyboards and lots of smooth backing vocals aiding and abetting Hamilton's own instantly appealing voice. My main problem with the album is in its lack of hooks; I wish there were more singable songs along the lines of "Southern Stuff" (low-key, groovy Southern r&b), "Sister Big Bones" (lightly amusing Stevie Wonder-ish funk), and "Never Love Again" (falsetto time as a hurt Hamilton tries to regroup from a shattered romance), and the slightly robotic drum sound is also a bit too modern for my tastes (I'd love to see Hamilton hook up with producer Willie Mitchell, who always got the drum sound just right on those great Al Green records). Still, this album is a grower whose strength is in its consistency and overall cohesiveness (this despite several producers having worked on it). Plus, unlike most modern r&b albums this one doesn't have any obligatory guest rappers ruining songs, as Hamilton obviously values superior singing and real musicianship. Again, though the album primarily offers silky smooth love songs such as "The Truth" and "Change Your World," it also delivers a reggaefied change of pace on "Everybody," while "Pass Me Over" could be called a gospel song, such is its sermon-like power. And though Hamilton is by and large a good vibes kinda guy, this album isn't without its more tense moments, as "Where Did It Go Wrong?" is an anguished, dramatic look at a relationship on the brink, while social commentary comes on the title track, which passionately laments people's lack of compassion and concern for one another, and "Preacher's Daughter" (notable for Tarsha McMillian's prominent vocal support and its striking piano/guitar interplay), about a preacher who's so caught up in his community responsibilities that he fails his own daughter. So, what we have here is a well-rounded platter of prime, adult themed r&b (this album is too slick to label it its sweatier counterpart, soul) that might lack truly memorable individual songs but which largely makes up for its compositional shortcomings via the passion and integrity of its performances and the cool charisma exuded by Hamilton, who hopefully will also pen some snappier choruses the next time out.
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