Don’t do this to me. Don’t take off your clothes and not grind. That’s exactly what it feels like when I anticipate a great record only to be let down by mediocre results.
Not that I want to grind with Anthony Hamilton. However, I first heard his incredible voice on Nappy Roots’ “Po Folks” single. A few months later, he projected so much raw soul onto “The Gambler,” a track on rapper Xzibit’s Man Vs. Machine album, that Columbia’s failure to make it a smash single should be considered criminal.
Hamilton is a throwback to Bill Withers and Sam Cooke. There is a helluva lot of soul and blues and pain and experience in his throat, the stuff of which classic singers are made. His Southern presentation — nappy beard, trucker hat and grizzled, mature appearance — tops him off, lending an air of originality that could/should endear him to younger listeners.
Given these model attributes, why is his Arista Records debut, Comin’ From Where I’m From, plagued by songs that are better suited for R&B knockoffs? From launches on a hopeful note, with the moody hip-hop track “Mama Knew Love,” written with Shawn Carter and Al Green. This hip-hop-meets-old-soul formula worked to perfection on the Nappy Roots/Xzibit collaborations. The next four songs, however, grow smoggy like LA air, taking Hamilton in a more formulaic direction. “Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens,” “Since I Seen’t You,” “Charlene” and “I’m A Mess” all breathe on a respirator. It’s frustrating to hear a classic voice struggle with boring production that fails to live up to his skills and strengths.
We can only hope the album’s title track, sequenced smack at the center of the CD, becomes a breakout single. It revives the album, and marks the point where Hamilton’s sound and music begin to consistently push the envelope creatively. Elsewhere, “Lucille” is a beautiful ode to a woman who chooses an abusive boyfriend, and the soft rock of “Chyna Black” is a divergence, but it breaks the monotony of cookie-cutter R&B.
The title of the last song, “I Tried,” sums up the entire project. Hopefully, future outings will reveal Hamilton’s blues orientation. Indeed, shoveling a scoop of that into today’s radio formats would be the refreshment R&B needs.
E-mail Khary Kimani Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.