If the premise of neo-soul is to find and marry the occasional brilliance of two tired worlds — R&B’s lovesick/hornball vocals and hip-hop’s slinking beats — Anthony Hamilton is nothing short of a master. Two tracks from his second album, 2003’s Comin’ from Where I’m From, fit so naturally into the dark ethos of a G-Unit mixtape it was as if Hamilton was the one jacking them. And Jadakiss borrowed the man’s urgent croon for his biggest hit, “Why?” Basically, Hamilton has a voice for gospel and an ear for rap, and he’s not afraid to use both.
Southern Comfort, an odds-and-ends collection of unreleased tracks, doesn’t try to break the formula, though there are some welcome attempts at expansion. Much of the gospel-leaning of his earlier efforts has been replaced by a sweltering funk ooze — see opener “They Don’t Know” and “Why” (not a Jada remake). “Trouble” drips and regroups like one of those summer mornings you know are going to lead to a hotter-than-hell day, and “Fallin’ in Love Again” rocks with the coolness of something meant for after-hours. Hamilton’s at his most irresistible when he’s got his swagger running high, when his voice tilts and rolls with the beats and an unexpected addition — a saturated guitar in “Glad U Called” or a beautiful piano dollop in “Sailin’ Away” — still feels instantly right. And many times on Southern Comfort, that’s exactly what happens.
So this is a summer record released a couple of months early, ripe with flexing workouts of hip-hop (“Magnolia’s Room”), experimental socio-politics (“Don’t Say What You Won’t Do”), intelligent R&B (“Better Love”), and, of course, gospel (“Please”). Just don’t let the “unreleased” tag and the album’s minimal warm-up fool you. These are fully formed compositions, and although they may not have fit anywhere else, Hamilton does everything so well he establishes the only common denominator that matters: himself.