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Sound Advice

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A modern-day soul man who hearkens back to such down-home '70s artists as Bill Withers and Bobby Womack, Anthony Hamilton's rise to soul stardom has been a long, hard climb.

Hamilton first got a record deal with Uptown records a decade ago, only to see his label fold before his debut was released. He eventually released an album, XTC, a couple of years later for MCA but saw it sink commercially despite good reviews.

Over the past few years, Hamilton has been biding his time writing songs for others (including Donell Jones and Sunshine Anderson) and singing backup (on tour with D'Angelo and on records for 2Pac and Eve). Hamilton's profile rose again last year when he provided the vocal hook for Nappy Roots' hit "Po' Folks," which led to his partnership with Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri.

Dupri released Hamilton's current album, Comin' from Where I'm From, on his Arista imprint So So Def, and the result is, hands down, one of the year's best R&B records. A native of North Carolina, Hamilton brings a bit of Southern flavor to his idiosyncratic, humble, and personal brand of soul music, a feel that you can hear on the playful "Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens."

With organic keyboards and horns brushing up against hip-hop beats and production, Hamilton looks backward and forward at the same time and ends up with one of the freshest neo-soul sounds around. He's especially affecting when reminiscing on his hardscrabble upbringing in Charlotte, as on the title track and especially "Mama Knew Love," which flips the script on the Temptation's "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and breathes life into an increasingly familiar genre (the "Mama" song) with memorable lyrics such as: "Mama knew love like the back roads/Used to fall asleep daily in her work clothes/Mama knew love like the back streets/Used to wipe pee just to make the ends meet."

But the finest testament to Hamilton's bravery and wit might be "Lucille," which references the chorus refrain to Kenny Rogers' (or Waylon Jennings') hit of the same title ("You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille") without ever threatening to become a novelty.

Hamilton will be joined by another young neo-soul up-and-comer, Javier, for a performance at Isaac Hayes Friday, December 12th. -- Chris Herrington

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