It seems fitting, if not downright poetic, that one of Anthony Hamilton's first professional triumphs was singing the emotionally charged hook for the Nappy Roots hit "Po' Folks." While peers like Bilal and D'Angelo sound as if they spend their days in an ecstatic bohemian haze of sex and weed, Hamilton always sounds like he just got off a 12-hour shift at the canning factory. There's a whole lot of bone-deep Delta blues in the bottomless hurt of Hamilton's voice, but on his new disc's best songs, there's a whole lot of gospel, too.
On "The Truth," Hamilton overtly links religious devotion with the romantic variety, seductively promising his soulmate that they'll "go to church together," even offering to "get baptized too," as his buttery, almost feminine backup vocals push the song doggedly heavenward. The next track, "Preacher's Daughter," borrows a fixture of the church to howl the blues about a good girl gone astray, leading up to the soul-stirring straight-up gospel of "Pass Me Over." But a soul-singer's trade is the serious business of seduction, and on "Sista Big Bones," Hamilton leaves the proselytizing behind for a rowdy tribute to women with healthy appetites.
In a neo-soul universe dominated by upscale East Coast buppies, Hamilton is defiantly working-class and Southern, but his new disc is significantly less rooted in gutbucket Southern soul than his tellingly titled debut, Comin' From Where I'm From. Ain't Nobody Worryin' isn't as immediately satisfying as Where I'm From. But superior soul albums, like superior romantic relationships, tend to deepen and mature over time. And judging from this stellar follow-up, it doesn't appear likely that Hamilton will be relinquishing his title as contemporary soul's reigning king of pain anytime soon.