Some things, thankfully, never go out of style. Case in point: the bona fide soul of Anthony Hamilton.
That distinctive, six-time Grammy-nominated voice is back on "The Point of It All," Hamilton's third official studio album (So So Def/Zomba Label Group). Like "Comin' From Where I'm From" (2003) and "Ain't Nobody Worryin'" (2005) before it, this new album once again plays up the singer/songwriter's natural talent: rich, soul-steeped vocals breathing sonorous life into emotion-packed lyrics. But this time around, you'll find the former barber cutting up a little more than usual.
"I want fans to hear my growth," says the Charlotte, North Carolina native. "But I also want to open up the ears of those who don't know about Anthony Hamilton. I don't always want to be known as the sad cat. I like to have a good time, too. I've taken fans to church and baptized them; there are those who say I've healed them with my music. Now we're going to boogie in the name of the Lord."
To help balance both sides of his musical equation, Hamilton enlisted the familiar and the new. Back for return engagements are songwriter/producers Mark Batson (Hamilton's signature hits "Coming From Where I'm From" and "Charlene"), James Poyser and Kelvin Wooten. "It's always going to be them; they give me what I need," says Hamilton of his longtime collaborators. "They know what I've been doing but can see the growth I'm experiencing."
New to the Hamilton camp are the Avila Brothers (Usher, Mariah Carey) and Jack Splash (Alicia Keys, John Legend). "It makes a difference when collaborators are really into what you're doing versus just getting a check," says Hamilton.
That's readily apparent on "The Point of It All." Hamilton and crew get the ball rolling on lead single "Cool" featuring rapper David Banner. The pair's rough-and-ready vocals perfectly complement each other on this Kelvin Wooten-produced mid-tempo treatise on relationship dynamics. Hamilton, who co-wrote the song with Wooten, confidently croons to his significant other that's he's cool; he's got this. There's no need to worry because together they can conquer whatever comes in life. Hamilton also isn't afraid to admit when he's wrong as displayed on the confessional "Please Stay." Poignantly framed by a plaintive chorus of horns and Jack Splash's understated production, Hamilton makes you feel every bit of his torment as he tries to regain his lady's trust. As the song ends, his anguished, high-pitched ooohs say it all.
Hamilton-who co-wrote "Please Stay" plus the other album selections- brings it all home on the title track. Produced by the Avila Brothers, (who also co-wrote with Big Jim Wright), the moving ballad zeroes in on Hamilton's strong suit: subtly powerful, sparsely produced love songs that showcase his distinctive voice. As on his 2006 top 15 R&B hit, "Can't Let Go," Hamilton breaks love down to its pure essence as he sings, "No matter what the storm will bring/I'm fine with you/The point of it all is I love you."
While Hamilton definitely knows his way around a love song, he is just as comfortable shaking things up. He pumps up the beat on the feel-good "I Feel Like Fallin' in Love," produced by Mark Batson. Hamilton then stirs up fire and brimstone on the aptly titled "Soul's on Fire." His gospel background figures prominently on the ambitious "Prayin' For You/Superman," a two-part relationship anthem that shifts gears from spirit-in-the-dark revival to organ-fronted blues without losing anything in translation.
"I had a lot more time to record songs that reflect where I'm at right now. So this album was more of a mind chore for me," explains Hamilton. "The goal is always to touch as many people as you can. But I always make sure to remain down home and grass-rooted. That's what brought the fans in and keeps them with me."
Attracting fans right from the start, Hamilton's unique voice draws its soulful force and story-telling inspiration from such pioneers as Bill Withers, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Johnny Guitar Watson and Marvin Gaye. Instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach, however, Hamilton paved his own road to fame. It's a road that stretches back to Charlotte, where a 10-year-old Hamilton began singing in the local church before hitting the local nightclub and talent show circuits in his teens.
Later training as a barber, however, didn't impede Hamilton's musical pursuit. A 1993 trek to New York City resulted in his signing with Uptown Records, home at the time to Mary J. Blige and Jodeci. Thus began a six-label odyssey that tested Hamilton's patience and perseverance. Rather than dwell on the negative, the singer honed his chops contributing background vocals on D'Angelo's worldwide "Voodoo" tour and making guest appearances on songs by Eve, Xzibit and 2Pac.
Hamilton's career-molding break arrived in 2002 when he sang the infectious hook on the Nappy Roots' "Po' Folks." That performance netted the singer his first Gammy nomination for best rap/sung collaboration--and a new label, Jermaine Dupri's So So Def imprint. A year later his platinum debut, "Coming From Where I'm From," was released. It was followed by the gold-certified "Ain't Nobody Worryin'."
Not just a fan favorite, Hamilton is also the go-to singer for other artists whether the medium is R&B/soul, gospel, hip-hop, pop or country. In addition to new albums by Young Jeezy ("The Recession") and the Nappy Roots ("The Humdinger"), Hamilton guests on upcoming projects by Dr. Dre, T-Pain, Nat King Cole and Fonzworth Bentley.
Over the last three years, he has written and/or sung with a who's who in music including Al Green, Josh Turner, Keyshia Cole, John Rich (Big & Rich), Santana and Mint Condition. A 2007 highlight was Hamilton's cameo appearance in the Oscar-nominated film "American Gangster" starring Denzel Washington as well as his performance on the soundtrack's lead song, the Diane Warren-penned "Do You Feel Me."
"It's pretty much the same rhythm, the same core, and that allows me to do a country song then bounce back to rap and then gospel," says Hamilton of his effortless versatility. "At the end of the day, it's what the heart and soul are saying; it's what I've got to say to people. I enjoy it all."
In addition to giving back through music, Hamilton participates in various national and local outreach initiatives including his own TASTE Foundation (Take a Step to Elevate). And while his future plans include writing and executive producing feature films, Hamilton remains committed to music. He and his vocalist wife Tarsha McMillian have established independent label Mister's Music Recordings, whose roster includes Ashville, North Carolina rapper Ashes Clay.
"After all the ups and downs I've experienced," says Hamilton, "I've still got the same jones."
And that--bottom line--is "The Point of It All."