[24 March 2009]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Being nominated for a Grammy isn’t something new for Charlotte, North Carolina’s most well-known modern-day R&B crooner, Anthony Hamilton. Even before this year’s win for his collaboration with Al Green on “You’ve Got the Love I Need”—a track featured on Green’s brilliant 2007 comeback disc, Lay It Down—Hamilton had nabbed a total of seven Grammy nods. But considering how he got this year’s ticket to the biggest night in music, even he admits this time is a little different.
“It was just classic,” Hamilton said about working with Green. “The experience itself was great. It was one of those big moments in your life. [Green] really made the moment comfortable. He’s just a classic guy.”
Hamilton’s assessment of Green may be correct, but there are many that argue the neo-soul leader is well on his way to making a pretty classic name for himself. Having been in the music industry for over 15 years now, Hamilton has seen it all. After initially signing with Uptown Records in 1993, he found himself at the head of a career that was leading to nothing but dead ends. Six record labels, countless unreleased songs and dozens of collaborations later, Hamilton finally found a home with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def Records.
It was there that Hamilton broke through with his 2003 release of the critically-acclaimed Comin’ From Where I’m From. The album, which stood on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart for a staggering 75 weeks, went platinum and launched a star into the sometimes-obscured world of modern day rhythm & blues. He was a throwback. Instead of the smooth, silk-like textures of artists like Usher and groups like Next, Hamilton’s rasp-laden voice was a refreshing recall to the glory days of the music, when artists such as his aforementioned classic collaborator ruled the world. Plus, he had soul. His heart simply sounded a little more broken than those polished pop acts.
Now, three “official” albums deep, Hamilton has decided to lighten the mood a little with his latest, The Point of It All. The album, released in December of 2008, is decidedly more optimistic than his previous efforts. And according to Hamilton, the absence of darker clouds on his work these days isn’t a change of direction. Nor is it a gimmick used to try and expand his audience to people that may be looking for something lighter. Nope. In fact, it’s nothing more than a sign of where he is today.
“I kind of wanted to come in and do something a little more up-tempo this time around,” he said. “But really, I’m just enjoying life now. I’m married with a beautiful wife. I’ve got kids. I’m just naturally in a different place now than I was when I did those other records. You have to be who you are when you do music.”
Considering that being who he is got him this far, Hamilton is quick to point out that who he is, is somebody who isn’t always unhappy.
“I’m not always a heartbroken guy,” he said. “I like to laugh, act silly, dance. There are so many more colors to me. I really can be fun.”
Part of that fun portrayed on his latest disc can be attributed to his elaborate use of instrumentation throughout the entire album. While Hamilton continues to utilize southern-fried hip-hop beats as his backdrop predominantly, he chose to go with the use of far more live instruments than he ever has before on The Point of It All.
The instruments are more alive than ever on the disc’s most unique track, the bluegrass-inspired “Prayin’ for You”. The track spotlights a side of Hamilton that has clearly been ignored for far too long, as its steel guitar and church-inspired vocals combine to show fans there is so much more than heartbreak and groovy drum beats to the North Carolina native.
“We were sitting in the studio, and I just got this idea,” he said of how “Prayin’ for You” came to life. “And I just started singing [the chorus] over and over again. Kelvin [Wooten, the song’s producer] got his guitar and started playing. Once we got going, I was like, ‘We need some floor stomps and some claps,’ and the whole thing just came together. There was really no thought put into it.”
That unstructured style of writing is something Hamilton is used to. In fact, according to him, he writes the majority of the songs that appear on his records in much the same way.
“Most songs I write are spur-of-the-moment-type things,” he said. “I have to be spontaneous. If not, songwriting can bore me. There is no pre-design, or idea of what I am going to do when I go into the studio. It’s all like that, for me. I could go in and write two or three songs in an eight-hour session. You can’t over-think songs. You just can’t.”
One thing that arguably might not come nearly as naturally for Hamilton is his stint in movies. After making a cameo in 2007’s American Gangster, playing the role of a singer performing at a nightclub, he said he’d love to have the opportunity to work on more films, should the right offer come around.
“I’ve thought a lot about doing more movies,” he said. “But I’d like to try and ease into it. You can’t go from American Gangster to garbage. You can’t just be in any movie, you know. But we’ll see what the future holds.”
While his long-term future may be up in the air, he’s making sure he won’t be stagnant any time soon as his immediate future is getting more booked-up by the minute. After returning to the road this spring for a two-week jaunt in Europe, Hamilton plans to return to the states for another full-fledged North American tour throughout the summer in support of The Point of It All. As if that’s not enough to keep busy, he plans to be a part of two more releases this year: One album dedicated exclusively to the blues, and one album with his wife, an effort he proudly calls “a husband and wife record”.
But as his 2009 seems to be jam-packed with plans, he isn’t complaining one bit about the amount of work that lay ahead of him in the months to come. After working for so long to get to this point in his career, Hamilton seems more than content with the way things are going.
“I love being in the studio and I am a huge fan of live music,” he said. “Without writing good stuff in the studio, you have nothing to play live. But right now, I’m just having a lot of fun with what I am doing.”
“Really,” he reiterated one more time in a tone that was every bit sincere as the many bits of his soul he has laid out on record for the world to listen to. “I’m just enjoying life.”