Anthony Hamilton - What I'm Feeling (2016)

Anthony Hamilton
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There seems to be a fact that many in the music industry are quick to overlook: there’s a difference between embodying a sound and having a ‘persona.’ Assembling props and tailoring an image may work temporarily, but eventually, the truth will emerge. Anthony Hamilton, for anyone with a pulse and a pair of working ears, represents the former, and his being ‘country’ is merely part of the story. No matter what the occasion, tempo or subject is, Hamilton’s songs, by way of the grit and throaty edges of his vocals, carry a thread of the struggles and sacrifices he's endured along the way.  We not only hear Anthony, we relate to and believe him, which is why his latest effort, What I’m Feeling, is so aptly named.  

There seems to be a fact that many in the music industry are quick to overlook: there’s a difference between embodying a sound and having a ‘persona.’ Assembling props and tailoring an image may work temporarily, but eventually, the truth will emerge. Anthony Hamilton, for anyone with a pulse and a pair of working ears, represents the former, and his being ‘country’ is merely part of the story. No matter what the occasion, tempo or subject is, Hamilton’s songs, by way of the grit and throaty edges of his vocals, carry a thread of the struggles and sacrifices he's endured along the way.  We not only hear Anthony, we relate to and believe him, which is why his latest effort, What I’m Feeling, is so aptly named.  

Six CDs into a stellar career (seven including 2014’s Home for the Holidays), Anthony Hamilton has spent a decade building a reservoir of hearty, slow-burning soul grooves, modern in theme yet brimming with traditional grown-man sentiments cloaked in the ambience of the ‘lived-in’ and the ‘down-home.’ It’s been years---four and some change---since Back to Love, and the seismic upheavals Hamilton has experienced since then (three additional sons, a DWI arrest and the dissolution of his marriage to Tarsha McMillian-Hamilton) seep through every track. A lesser performer would’ve fumbled the emotions that Hamilton’s ….Feeling displays, but he and his longtime collaborator, Mark Batson, along with Salaam Remi and James Poyser, provide a firm support wall for Anthony to rail against. In ways you were expecting and others that couldn't be anticipated, Hamilton serves up heaping helpings of country, R&B and some blues that are raw, edgy, intimate and cathartic. 

Anthony Hamilton’s reverence for the Lord and the ladies is prominent throughout: love at first sight and its hallelujah' effects are what he’s sharing in the raucous opener, “Save Me” -- if "mile long legs and a mighty backside" can get a man into the pew, who are we to judge? "Amen," his first single, is more unabashed praise for the good lady he's found ("from the bed to the store/ from the church, to the job, best thing I know") and anyone who's cautious about the possibilities of new union can relate to the title track, a Stylistics-esque throwback with doo-woping accompaniment by The Hamiltones imploring the doubtful ("...are you afraid of what we're building? Tell me what you're feeling/ Don't be afraid.....") to move forward in faith.

Stretching is how growth occurs, and Hamilton is certainly achieving that here: "Ever Seen Heaven" is crisp and downright 'new-agey,' as "Ain't No Shame" transposes an urgent PSA against a leisurely-plucking guitar and solemn synthesizer flourishes: "I'm tired of folk around me always settling/it's a big world, why don't you get off the porch?" Its flip-sides, "Love Is An Angry Thing" and the autobiographical "Walk In My Shoes," unblinkingly reveal that fame and fortune still weren't enough to maintain some of the simple pleasures, or matrimony, he once enjoyed. 

But repentance leads to healing, so Anthony remains open to love, carnal and otherwise: the NC-bred southern gentleman is all about nesting in the soul-clapping, tambourine-and-pipe organ-injected jam "Take You Home," an ode to getting his intended approved by Mama'nem, while the lush "I Want You" is all about the get-down and laying-it-down without, thankfully, reducing his lady to an assembly of parts as if she's a combo plate.

Whether you acquire the regular retail set or the CD's Cracker Barrel edition (featuring two extra tracks), What I'm Feeling will reacquaint you with the performer you already enjoy and unfurl newer dimensions you weren't expecting. Anthony Hamilton's latest leg of the journey is both turbulent and triumphant, and the only way to be disappointed is to deprive oneself of the results. Enthusiastically Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 
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