For no other reason than the strange nature of music categorization, the ever-classy Anthony Hamilton is often lumped in with singers who stage-hump and sing songs with the word “booty” in the title. But the Charlotte native is a singular talent when it comes to modern Southern soul. He has always taken seriously his role as carrier of the torch for soul artists such as Percy Sledge and Otis Redding, and he tends to make pretty serious soul music. His studio albums typically consist of a bunch of amazing heavy-hitting ballads steeped in blues and gospel, with some breezier tracks thrown in — a love song about weed (“Float”) here, a joyful ode to big girls (“Sista Big Bones”) there.
On “Back to Love,” Hamilton’s fourth studio album, he flips that formula. There are plenty of intense ballads (the gorgeous “I’ll Wait (To Fall in Love)” is probably the best of them), but there’s also a good deal of lighter material. The Babyface-produced track “Woo” mixes the cool slickness typical of a Kenneth Edmonds production with Hamilton’s gritty voice and gospel leanings: “It was heavy / Like Delilah / Set my soul on fire,” he wails. “Sucka for You” is a mishmash of sounds that seems caught between the club and the church, but Hamilton’s rich voice gives it focus.
Perhaps the biggest departure is a duet with Keri Hilson, “Never Let Go.” A duet with a singer whose biggest hit to date is a song called “Pretty Girl Rock” seems like a stretch. Amazingly, it works — the fizzy Hilson is a nice complement to the gravelly Hamilton, and it’s nice to hear a voice like Hamilton’s take on an uncomplicated, mainstream R&B song — particularly one with nary a mention of booty.
“Woo,” “Never Let Go,” “I’ll Wait (To Fall in Love)”