“Comin’ From Where I’m From,” the second album by Anthony Hamilton, found its stride early on with three intense ballads that revealed that he was heir to the mighty tradition of great R&B and soul singers, women and men who could wring every drop of emotion out of a heartbreak lyric. As the three songs unfolded in sequence, they told a tale. In “Since I Seen’t You,” Hamilton stated that he feared his ideal love would leave. Then, in “Charlene,” a song taken at a slightly slower tempo, she was gone and he was desperate for her return: “Charlene, if you’re listening, would you call on me/Because my heart is aching.” And then “I’m A Mess” dug deep into the blues as Hamilton realized he was likely to remain without her. Over an growling organ and hip hop-influenced percussion and bass, he sang: “You and me were meant to last forever/And empty walls can’t hold this house together/We were meant to lie and die together.” Voices in the female choir seem to be taunting him as the song ended suddenly, thus concluding an arresting stretch of a terrific album of modern soul and R&B that positioned Hamilton as an emerging force in contemporary music.
While the lyrical themes of this ad-hoc suite arrived without foreshadowing, the musical template for Hamilton’s 2003 album was established with the opening number, “Mama Knew Love” a hot, mid-tempo tune that sampled Jay Z’s “Blueprint (Momma Loves Me),” which included a sample of Al Green’s “Free at Last.” That organ sound, as played by Charles Hodges on Green’s legendary albums, permeates Hamilton’s “Comin’ From Where I’m From,” providing support or counterpoint to Hamilton’s vocals. “Mama Knew Love” also foreshadowed Hamilton’s way with a phrase. He recalled how his mother gave him a piece of butterscotch and how, after a hard day on the job, she fell asleep in her work clothes, her legs swollen. “Still you managed to show me a smile,” he sang.
By no means was “Mama Knew Love” or the three-song suite the album’s only high points. “Chyna Black” was a forceful, rocking take on dance pop. The title track set the organ sound aside for a setting that was both gritty and lush as Hamilton sang the tale of a street hustler. In “Better Days,” he displayed his falsetto over brooding bass, steady percussion and ringing electric piano, and with “Float,” he delivered another taunt blues ballad – this one featured Derrick Hodge on bass and Clay Sears on crunchy electric guitar. Erick Coomes’s nylon-strong guitar was central to the slinky “Lucille,” a love story with a dark twist. In “I Tried,” he brought in Pino Palladino on bass and James Poyser on keyboards for a finger-wagging broken-heart ballad that’s the perfect capper to the album.
“Comin’ From Where I’m From” was Hamilton’s breakthrough hit, selling more than one million copies and garnering four Grammy nominations. Perhaps befitting a vocalist and songwriter who came to prominence as a backup singer to D’Angelo and who had collaborate with Nappy Roots on several of their hits, Hamilton continued to work with other artists even as his solo career prospered. He was featured on winning tracks by Buddy Guy, Roy Hargrove, Jadakiss, Angie Stone and Young Jeezy, among others. He’s issued six additional solo albums, including compilations. In a career rich with R&B and soul highlights, “Comin’ From Where I’m From” remains Hamilton’s greatest professional achievement, celebrating the roots of his sound while showcasing his gifts as a composer and very effective vocalist.