A third of the way through Anthony Hamilton’s fifth album, Ain’t Nobody Worryin’, the veteran singer delivers a familiar open letter lament. On this, the title cut, he airs out an America that is emotionally scarred, socially scared and financially wrecked. For those versed in the schools of Marvin, Donny and Zimmerman, these themes have remained disturbingly steadfast, only growing in urgency and transparency post-9/11. Simultaneously, constant grievance over these topics has paralleled a peculiar transition. Where “What’s Goin’ On”, “The Ghetto” and “Masters of War” still roil a certain thunder, astray disciples have appropriated these messages as standard pop culture reference points; their constant citation mutes criticism into a given.
So why does it hurt so much to listen to “Ain’t Nobody Worryin’?”
The truth is in The Truth. Beyond any discussion of tonality, pitch perfection, song structure, production technique, instrumental arrangement or performance quality is this realm that breathes life into music. Here, Hamilton dwells and has subsequently striven to communicate its essence professionally for over 10 years. Of course, in a world committed first to the immediacy of dollar profits, his path has understandably run afoul constantly: bellied-up record companies, unreleased records and a constant grind living behind the shine. However, with the recent attention of hitmaker Jermaine Dupri, Hamilton finally stands to have his message be heard.
Worryin’ is light on garnish and heavy on heart. Pairing with producer/multi-instrumentalist Mark Batson (Seal IV), the two pare down their responsibilities to bare necessities to make the album a stripped and intimate affair. Recorded in the singer’s native North Carolina, their cuts have a homemade ease and lucid space ideal for Hamilton’s vividly lush vocals. Like Otis Spann exhumed or an earthbound Donny Hathaway, Hamilton reaches, pulls and channels expressions, then squeezes, strikes and declares them like padded hammer blows. Close harmonies on the chorus of “Where Did It Go Wrong?” bum rush a blood-starved pulse, while “Can’t Let Go”‘s raging devotion tumbles infidelity with the force of quaking earnestness. Even when guest producers like Raphael Saadiq and Kelvin Wooten provide sonic counterpoint, Hamilton’s presence consistently grounds each track. In this manner, Dre and Vidal wisely waft “The Truth” under his humid presence while James Poyser dubs out “Everybody” for his spacious faith chatting. Not one to leave the listener overwrought, he still finds time to charm the dancefloor on the throwback ode to the lusciously full, “Sista Big Bones”. However, Hamilton’s steady center and keen sense of drama makes Worryin’ a supreme presentation of soul.
Certainly, Worryin’ stirs its share of caution. In terms of the aforementioned technical aspects the album deserves minor criticism, mostly in terms of a consistently canned sound. But the original point needs to be stressed: this isn’t the point of Anthony Hamilton. His singing pushes from and reaches for the unspoken majesty that is music, those areas that grace our senses and soul in ways unpronounceable in speech, insensitive to touch, or incompatible with a PowerPoint presentation. In spite of occasionally flawed means, Hamilton has still translated his message on Worryin’. All the listener has to do is listen.
As the year closes, many writers will attempt to condense like experiences from the past 12 months into a series of Top X lists that will endorse some product that you should have purchased or some concert you totally missed out on or some other bit of trivia that revels in its obscurity and irrelevance. However, what this exercise fails to convey is any of the impact or affect that speaks to music’s profundity. Instead of conveying its immediacy, a list looks back; as DJ Rupture says, “‘The best’ is always retrospective.” I will amend his follow-up that “good music is always ahead” by saying good music speaks to The Now; this astuteness leads to continued resonance. Herein lies the grounding electricity of Anthony Hamilton. And why his music will continue to move.