Music

Anthony Hamilton: Ain't Nobody Worryin'

Dan Nishimoto

Anthony Hamilton is proof that you can handle The Truth.


Anthony Hamilton

Ain't Nobody Worryin'

Label: Arista
US Release Date: 2005-12-13
UK Release Date: 2006-01-30
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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.

9

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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