taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder


— Back to Love

You know the truly great R&B and soul singers have a way of distinguishing themselves on record in a way that there’s no mistaking them. Bobby Womack’s plaintive melisma at the beginning of Across 110th Street or Wilson Pickett’s gritty countdown on “Land of 1000 Dances” were their vocal calling cards, and on his new LP Back to Love there’s no confusing that it’s the work of Anthony Hamilton. His fine-grit purr rounds the hard edges off of a collection of the glossiest electronic beats he’s worked with yet over the album’s 12 tracks. The Charlotte neo-soul songwriter has taken to doing things his way on his fifth album, garnering executive producer credits as well as co-writer credits for every track, his first such feat since 2005’s Soulife. He does, however, make great use of a team of guest producers like James Poyser and Babyface who aid him in balancing a perilous line between retro soul fetishism and heterogenic trend chasing. Where Hamilton has been most successful in the past is creating music that’s narrative-and personadriven, with him as the central figure, and Back to Love sticks to that device beautifully. He channels Womack brilliantly with the album’s title track as he lays out his master plan to rekindle his romance and Hamilton, a married father of five, sounds disarmingly sincere. He falls at the polar opposite end of the naughty spectrum as current R&B king R. Kelly, but oftentimes his lines can be just as memorable. “I’d be such an angel/ you’d think that me and Jesus was cool,” he sings on “Pray for Me,” the album’s resident “I blew it” song. He can be sexy without being salacious and passionate without being melodramatic, as noted on the Babyface-produced “Woo.” Yet, while the first half of the album nevertheless has the undeniable air of formula, you get to see the honest-to-God Anthony Hamilton on the latter half. The brooding “Life Has A Way” could be the overlooked B-side to a Bobby Blue Bland record, and “Fair In Love” pairs classic breaks with an infallible harmony. Most of all, it shows Hamilton exactly for what he is: a real soul man.