THE POINT OF IT ALL
Few pop singers are as steeped in the pressing rhythms, melismatic vocal styles and fevered call-and-response of black gospel music as Anthony Hamilton. Take "Praying for You (Superman)," the eight-minute tour de force that anchors the back half of "The Point of It All," the North Carolina native's latest album. Opening with an extended polyrhythmic workout reminiscent of an African ring shout, the song features Hamilton sounding like a young Lou Rawls whipping a neo-soul edition of the Pilgrim Travelers into a sanctified lather.
Traces of Bill Withers, Johnny Guitar Watson and Bobby Womack, along with other standard-bearers from the heyday of '70s soul music, can be heard throughout the album as well. The dissonant piano and strings on "The News" update the inner-city soundtracks of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, right down to Hamilton's keening falsetto and allusions to drugs and exploitation that continue to sound an urgent note today. The title track is galvanized by a snaking funk groove while "Cool," the album's first single, showcases the Mississippi rapper David Banner and some dirty chicken-scratch guitar.
Though rooted in tradition (both the streets and the church), Hamilton's latest is thoroughly contemporary, from the bumping grooves of the mid-tempo ballads to the record's mix of programmed and live beats. A rock classicism also is evident at points, such as in "Fine Again," an anthem that owes as much to Gnarls Barkley as it does to late-period Beatles -- and, perhaps needless to say, the church.
-- Bill Friskics-Warren
DOWNLOAD THESE: "The News," "Praying for You (Superman)," "Fine Again"
Plies has tried hopping the fast track to rap superstardom with a two-pronged strategy: Flood the market and keep it really, really real. He's dropped two albums in the past six months, this summer's "Definition of Real" and a great new disc called "Da REAList." For a reality-obsessive this ambitious, can a "Plies of Love" series on VH1 be that far off?
Funny, then, how "Da REAList" shows the Florida rapper's knack for surrealism. The minimal beat of "Me & My Goons" sets up a hallucinogenic bullying, where his slow-motion moan borders on the psychedelic. "You wanna rob me but I might rob youuuuuu," he warns, the slurred vocal dragging behind a pulse of busy-signal bleeps and drum machine thump. Later, he foreshadows a shootout with an unfortunate outcome: "You will melt." This isn't reality -- it's the voice in your nightmares.
He makes good on his album title with "Family Straight," a dysfunctional-family tale with a chorus that rattles off the woes of his kin and verses that zoom in for the visceral, heart-wrenching details. "The only time we come together is to have a funeral/Sit around and talk about each other, spread rumors," he mutters.