Everybody has a place where he grew up, a place he calls home even if he no longer lives there. For some people, that place is a lot tougher than for others. You can hear weariness and borderline despair in Anthony Hamilton's voice when he sings "Comin' From Where I'm From," the heartbreaking, hard-luck-life title track from the stellar album of raw (don't call it neo) soul he released last year.
The crowd at the sold-out Warner Theatre on Thursday night had to wait until the end of Hamilton's show to hear the hit song, but it was a wait made easy. First the dynamic singer took the audience for a spirited, sultry journey that made clear he is ready for his turn in the spotlight after spending many years as a backup singer for some of rap and soul's biggest names, including Eve, Xzibit and D'Angelo.
Wearing a T-shirt, ragged jeans and a hat that hid his eyes, the Charlotte native preached and prayed, danced and swayed through a 90-minute set that was as much revival as concert. But the role he plays best is lovesick pleader, and on songs such as "I Tried," "Charlene" and "I'm a Mess," his gritty tenor warmed even the coldest hearts and his hurt-filled falsetto turns drew adoring screams from many women in the crowd. All guys should learn this trick. It seems to work wonders.
Like the best of the blues and sorrowful soul, Hamilton's hit song recounts a sad tale and in the telling somehow suffuses it with hope -- or at least resilience. Over an entrancing, old-school rhythm, Hamilton managed this feat, singing:
Well, tried to be good (I tried)
Wanted nothing but to love somebody
Didn't wanna die young
Steady hustlin' tryin' to feed my family
Too scared to have kids
And do like daddy did
Cuz I'm so scared of failin'
Sometimes it gets hard
Comin' from where I'm from
With able help from his four-piece band and two fine backup singers, the song became an extended jam, then a sermon on love, then all-out church as Hamilton led the audience in the Lord's Prayer, growled thanks to Jesus, broke into a spirit-moved-me dance and stomped offstage. It was a goose-bump-raising climax that hinted at great possibilities for the future of soul.