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ED GORDON, host:

For R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, it's not all about the numbers. The Grammy-nominated artist worked with six record labels over 11 years trying in vain to get his music out, all the while toiling away by singing background or writing hits for other artists like D'Angelo and Tupac. But in 2003, he finally broke through with his own album. The record went platinum and justified Hamilton's faith in his brand of Southern soul.

Mr. ANTHONY HAMILTON (Musician): There's a proper time and place for everything, and once you put so much time into it, you'd be a fool to turn around and walk away from it, 'cause I tasted it. The taste was great. And I think it not taking off all at once benefited me 'cause I had more passion and I was pissed off. It just made me sing harder.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) Corn bread, fish and collard greens, I got what you need if you want it. "Cause I'm a pimp, girl.

Unidentified Women: (Singing) If you want it.

Mr. HAMILTON: I'm a pimp, girl.

Unidentified Women: (Singing) Corn bread, fish and collard greens...

GORDON: Hamilton is back with a new CD called "Ain't Nobody Worryin'." Critics and fans alike say his rich, gritty voice and his lyrics put Hamilton in the same league as soul giants like Al Green, Otis Redding and Bill Withers.

Mr. HAMILTON: It makes me feel really blessed to have those comparisons to people who really put it down. Like, I'm just a new cat coming along.

GORDON: You know what's interesting to me in the comparison to Bill Withers?

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: The songwriting is what I hear. I mean, Bill Withers was a masterful songwriter, particular when...

Mr. HAMILTON: Storyteller.

GORDON: ...talking about stories and things that are so common...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...that we all can see it...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...when someone sings it. That's what you try to do.

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah. Like, even when I speak, I think I speak the same way I write. I kind of see it a certain way and it leads me to write it exactly how I'm seeing it.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) Why must they try to tear down the house we're in, babe? No, we're made from love and they can never stand in our way.

GORDON: Talk to me about the new material. One of the things that I hear in it even more than the first CD is there is a social consciousness...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...in a lot of these songs and in particular "Ain't Nobody Worryin'."

Mr. HAMILTON: Oh, yeah. It was very important for me to touch on things that haven't changed, like schools. I'm in Cleveland, Ohio. My lady's from Ohio and the schools are being torn down and they turned them into high-rise condos. And AIDS ain't changed. How can we say we care about that and the only thing we do is promote sex?

(Soundbite of "Ain't Nobody Worryin'")

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) These are precious times. You see the stinking line, Medicaid ran out. Show me a welfare line. There's a mother on her own trying to feed the drought. Tell me, when will they see all the suffering? My faith is running low. Ain't nobody worryin' no more, no more, no more, no more, no more...

GORDON: You have stayed true to what I have seen and known as the real traditional root of black music and that is...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...even with, you know, sex symbols like a Teddy Pendergrass from years back or Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, there was still a level of...

Mr. HAMILTON: Class.

GORDON: ...class and...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...the idea of being a gentleman in...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah, yeah.

GORDON: ...the way you present yourself. That is what you have done.

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah, man. I think--I don't want to offend nobody, first off, and I think we could be so much further if we didn't allow people to persuade us to be buffoons or lose character that was built so many years ago when you go out and just kind of let yourself go. And I'm a church boy. I got whuppin's. So I'm afraid at any moment my grandmother could just swing down from heaven with a switch.

GORDON: There is also a Southern pride that you make sure is instilled in all that you write. I mean, even on the new CD there's something called "Southern Stuff"...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...and it gives for those that ain't been in the back yard with the...

Mr. HAMILTON: Come on now.

GORDON: ...with the barbecue going and all of that...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: There is an understanding of what it is to be Southern.

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah. Southern is a slow-paced persona that comes about. You know, a little church, a little barbecue, yes, ma'am, and no, ma'am. I'm proud of that.

GORDON: Talk to me, too, about--there's a track on there, "Never Love Again"...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah. Being in love, it comes around ever so often for a man. And I don't know--we don't allow it to happen no more than a few times. And this is my way of telling a woman, like, look, we're willing to love but once we get hurt, it's hard for us to open up. I wanted to let them know that if you approach me a certain way and understand this is what I'm going through and this is how I'm thinking, you can definitely open me up to love again.

(Soundbite of "Never Love Again")

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) ...how could I ever love again. How could I ever love again...

I don't want to be made a fool no more than once. And I've been there, and it hurts. And you do feel like a fool. But I don't know, like, once you get a good dose of love and somebody come and they talk to you and kind of pamper you back to wellness, it's all worth the ride.

(Soundbite of "Never Love Again")

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) You know what they think about a man. It's hard for him to fall in love. Once hurt him, never given in. It's hard for him to trust...

GORDON: Talk to me about the fun of a song like "Sista Big Bone." Talk to me about that a bit.

Mr. HAMILTON: Sista Big Bone. Keep some meat on you. It's my way of saying full-figured women are beautiful. I encourage women to just feel good about who you are. You know, these thick Southern women or wherever you're from, you're feeling good about yourself, smiling, those shiny lips. It looks good. Eat a little bit, but I still encourage you to be healthy and happy, you know. I don't know, I just love it. I'd rather a woman have, you know, a few curves.

GORDON: A little something.

Mr. HAMILTON: A little something. Even--you got thin women that are, you know, Sista Big Bone. Big--you know, thick legs or, you know, a little roundness.

(Soundbite of "Sista Big Bone")

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) Bright eyes and things, dark hair, earrings, just a few of the things I like about you, Sista Big Bone. Big bone. Can a brother walk you home? Can I walk right beside you?

GORDON: So this is a big CD for you. We should note that another CD had come out called "Soul Life," but it was really older material that a record company you were under decided after the popularity of the first one...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...that sold out, 'cause we talked about that, whether you were worried whether it was going to infringe on this. I tell you, it won't. But talk to me about--I know you got some angst about this. I know you're saying, man, this is the one I want to make sure...

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah...

GORDON: ...'cause in talking to you, I know you want this to be a long, fruitful career.

Mr. HAMILTON: Yeah, I do. I want to be able to do it as long as I can. It was a situation where I knew I had to do a second album, but something that kind of got a little scary--I bruised my vocal cords. I had to be quiet for, like, three, four months. And I thought, well, if I can't deliver, how am I going to really make this album exactly what it needs to be? But I healed up, I went back in and I sung extremely passionate after I was finishing. That made me secure after that, and I didn't really worry about the sophomore jinx.

GORDON: Well, I would tell you, I don't think you have to worry about it. The CD is called "Ain't Nobody Worryin'". And good to have you with us.

Mr. HAMILTON: Good to be here, too, man.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) You've got that Southern stuff I like. It's like after school, cleaning car, complimenting you, barbecue, I'll even know, baby, talk with you. I know that's what you like. I know it's what you like. You've got that Southern stuff I like, like, like. Sweet Southern thing, pretty skin, hair, feet and when you grin...

GORDON: Thanks for joining us.

That's our program today. To listen to this show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. HAMILTON: (Singing) ...swing to the other side, I'm much obliged to make your acquaintance. You're full of substance and okra. You're like a Cadillac, cool breeze in the 70s, you and me on the dance talking family, that Southern thing I like, Southern thing I like. You've got that Southern stuff I like, you've got that Southern thing I like. It's like after school, cleaning car, complement to you, barbecue, I'll even know family talk with you...

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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