Anthony Hamilton – Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ (2005)
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After a long string of nowhere deals and disappointments, Anthony Hamilton has been on a hot streak lately — starting with 2003’s platinum-selling Comin’ From Where I’m From and its big hit, “Charlene,” his albums have enjoyed solid sales to go along with their nearly uniform critical praise.
The former is more impressive than the latter. R&B is one of the more rigidly structured genres, and modern soul, strictly speaking, might as well not even be a genre, so any time an artist steps out of that mechanized box and makes a record that sounds the least bit authentically soulful, you can count on rave reviews. Even if the album in question isn’t really good, per se, more than just a little different.
Is Hamilton that good? Yes and no. Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ is a fun listen, don’t get me wrong, and runs the gamut from one-kneed ballads like “Where Did it Go Wrong?” (download) to front-stoop anthems like “Sista Big Bones” (download), but I just can’t work up much enthusiasm for it. Hamilton is making better soul music than probably any of the other young pups in the game — and Worryin’ actually kicks the ass of some of the stuff released by seasoned vets this year (Al Green to the white courtesy phone) — but it lacks the heart and originality of the classics.
Bill Withers – Just As I Am (1971)
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Anthony Hamilton’s been receiving a lot of favorable Bill Withers comparisons lately, which is a funny thing, on account of how I haven’t been able to stop listening to Sony’s reissue of Withers’ 1971 debut. Just As I Am is widely acknowledged as not only one of the best soul albums ever, but a standout debut for any artist of any genre, so to hold it up against Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ would be more than unfair. Listening to them side-by-side, though, it’s impossible not to hear all the little ways Withers was getting it right, even his first time out — ways Hamilton hasn’t figured out yet.
Part of it is just the sound. This is one of the warmest, greasiest, most fluid albums you’ll ever hear, and the remastering only makes it better. And how about that band — Booker T., Al Jackson, Jim Keltner, Stephen Stills, and Bobbye Hall Porter? They don’t make records that sound like this anymore, and it pisses me off.
Oh, and the songs. “Ain’t No Sunshine.” “Grandma’s Hands.” “Harlem.” Glorious, inside-out covers of “Everybody’s Talkin’” and “Let It Be.” Not a bum note anywhere. I could randomly pick any two songs to share and they’d be great, so here: “Do It Good” (download) and “Hope She’ll Be Happier” (download).
Withers had been told he wasn’t “gritty” enough by certain A&R execs, and those guys were both earless and missing the point. Withers, even on his first album, even in sessions when he showed up thinking someone else would be hired to sing his songs, fills each note with quiet grace. He’d only just begun, and yet he was already drawing on a lifetime of experience.
Hamilton might get there — might even get there soon — but in the meantime, if you have to choose one of these records, it’s gotta be Just As I Am.