[7 January 2009]
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to make of the current R&B landscape. The R&B band has all but disappeared, the divas of yesteryear still exist in a radically faded state with no ladies in waiting to replace them, and as for the guys? Well, most male R&B singers either spend their time trying to be rappers or trying to be Michael Jackson. Nothing against rappers or MJ, but you’ve gotta wonder what happened to what they call “grown folks” R&B. Stick-to-your-ribs soul music. A man who sounds like an adult instead of a perpetually horny teenager, someone with real-life perspective. An artist capable of filling the void created when Gerald LeVert and Luther Vandross passed away. Well, if Anthony Hamilton hasn’t found his way into your music collection yet, I strongly suggest you check him out right now.
North Carolina-born, Harlem-based Anthony Hamilton is still pretty much under the radar. Despite selling a combined 1.5 million copies of his first two albums, the majority of music listeners—even fans of R&B—music fans would be hard-pressed to name three songs from the guy. That anonymity has prevented him from getting his props, because 37-year-old Hamilton is easily one of the best—if not THE best—singer in his genre. His raspy tone has drawn comparisons to everyone from Bill Withers to Bobby Womack, and he’s proven himself to be one of the few current artists capable of sounding like an authentic throwback (as opposed to a pale facsimile) and completely contemporary at the same time. He appeals equally to men and women, although the (formerly) scruffy, diminutive Hamilton is not the traditional R&B sex symbol. His music has a strong spiritual element to it (the song “Pass Me Over”, from his last album, literally got me through a very trying period several years ago), and the guy throws down live. Believe me, y’all. Anthony Hamilton is the whole package.
Rumors of his third album, The Point of It All, being a more “uptempo” affair caught me off-guard and had me thinking the worst. After all, Hamilton certainly wouldn’t be the first favorite artist of mine to make a sellout move after showing promise. My fears were compounded when I realized the first single, “Cool”, featured a guest spot from rapper David Banner. Again, I love my hip-hop just like I love my R&B, but there are definite times when the two don’t need to mix, and although Hamilton has made guest appearances on a couple of popular rap singles, I felt like the addition of a guest emcee on a Hamilton album was a compromise of sorts.
Thank goodness, my fears turned out to be unnecessary. While The Point of It All has a few modern elements, it’s basically still an Anthony Hamilton album. Fans of his first two albums will find much to enjoy here.
“Cool” actually turns out to be a pretty decent song, a mellow midtempo track with a fairly unobtrusive (and witty) rap section from Banner, but it’s far from the best song on the album (actually, it‘s one of the weakest). “The News” opens the album and immediately sets the tone for everything that follows with a groove and socially conscious lyrics that recall both Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Listen to a song like this and it’s no wonder that the guys who put together the music for American Gangster (which was set in the early ‘70s) picked Hamilton to perform two original songs on the soundtrack. “Prayin’ for You/Superman” is a two-part song that stretches Hamilton out with a little bit of bluesy country flavor. It’s pretty ballsy for an R&B artist and shows why musicians as diverse as country star Josh Turner and blues-rocker Jonny Lang have sought him out to work with. Hamilton even proves that he can handle adult contemporary balladry. He pulls off a song like “Her Heart” beautifully when it would be mush in any other artist’s hands.
Hamilton’s more spiritually inclined work hits me the hardest, and to me, this album’s centerpiece is “Fine Again”. It’s got a hopeful message and pleading vocals that put it head and shoulders above the rest of the album.
One good album can be a fluke. Two good albums suggest potential greatness. Three great albums seals the deal. With The Point of It All, Hamilton has sewn up his position as one of the most talented R&B artists around. Hopefully, this will be the time that the world-at-large realizes this.