Recording information: Blackbird Recording Studios, Nashville, TN; Henson Studios, Hollywood, CA; House of Blues, Nashvilee, TN; Instrument Zoo, Miami, FL.
Photographers: Leann Mueller; LaVann Anderson.
Four years and three months is a long time to go without an Anthony Hamilton album. Once Back to Love faded from view, there was a Christmas release, side appearances on cuts by Big K.R.I.T., Nas, and Rick Ross, and a duet with Elayna Boynton recorded for the Django Unchained soundtrack. The wait for a proper album extended into early 2016. Still with RCA, as part of what was easily the strongest major-label R&B roster of the mid-2010s, Hamilton eventually returned beside co-songwriter and producer Mark Batson. The two were previously together through Comin' from Where I'm From, Ain't Nobody Worryin', and The Point of It All, a stellar trilogy of modern red-dirt soul. By the absolute slightest margin, What I'm Feelin' isn't up to that level, but its strengths are undeniable, too numerous to make the set seem like a disappointment. It starts with the clawing funk of "Save Me" (something of a full-band sequel to "Sista Big Bones"), one of those openers so effective that the temptation to hit "repeat" and skip the rest is very real. Unlike his earlier work, Hamilton here rarely dips into sorrow, instead using more of his time to express desire and gratitude. The range of backdrops is as varied as ever, from solo acoustic piano to burbling synthesizers. "I Want You," involving the latter, is a knockout machine-soul ballad, where Hamilton's falsetto howl is as wicked as ever. The two songs not produced by Batson are handled by the duo of Salaam Remi (still crediting his work to his website URL) and James Poyser, both of whom previously worked with Hamilton as well. "Amen," an ode to a woman, is a trap/gospel hybrid -- jouncing mechanical drums and percussion, organ -- that works better than it should. "Take You Home," a beaming ballad about introducing his woman to his mother, is church all the way. ~ Andy Kellman