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On 'Back To Love,' Hamilton Makes Every Syllable Count

Anthony Hamilton.
Courtesy of the artist
Anthony Hamilton.

On Back to Love, Anthony Hamilton makes music from declarations. He tells a woman "I'm missing you crazy" in "Who's Loving You," and it's typical of his strategy. He states his thesis, his opinion, his desire in a voice that speaks as much as it sings for the sake of emphasis. After he's sure he's gotten his lover's attention, he begins doing his rhythm-and-blues work, mixing soul and blues and hip-hop phrasing to heighten the emotion in a song. You can hear the way Hamilton works on the construction of his beautiful effects in "Life Has a Way."

"Life humbles you down," Hamilton sings in that song. And, as all first-rate soul-men know, few things are sexier than a man singing about humility in a strong, confident manner. Because it's the strong guys, the potent artists, who have life in perspective, and who know that humility is a powerful virtue.

Of course, another virtue in a hard-working soul man is stubbornness. You can hear it in "Writing on the Wall," with its Al Green-y organ fills and the way Hamilton sings against the snap of the drums, as though the music all around him was a voice telling him what he doesn't want to hear: that the writing is on the wall, that the love affair is over. Hamilton does this throughout Back to Love. He sings against the music, as though he's fighting for every syllable, making every one count.

What Anthony Hamilton does on Back to Love is evoke predecessors ranging from Bill Withers to Teddy Pendergrass to Peabo Bryson, while bringing a contemporary feeling of ambivalence and vehemence to his singing. He deploys his deep knowledge of the soul tradition to make his declarations both firm and timely.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.