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Record Review

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Like the worn, distressed look of his album cover, Anthony Hamilton has taken a pounding in the music business. Recording albums that have been released just before his label folded, or shelved altogether, the former backing singer for D'Angelo has paid some hefty dues before getting "discovered" by Jermaine Dupri.

Which helps explain why Comin' From Where I'm From is such a mature and focused work. Although inspired by the classic R&B of Teddy Pendergrass, Bill Withers, Al Green and Marvin Gaye, as well as the neo-soul of Maxwell and D'Angelo, there's little that is retro about Hamilton's approach. Rather, he testifies over slick, synthesized backing as radio/bedroom-ready as anything from the Luther Vandross songbook.

Whether sliding into a falsetto croon on "Better Days" or pulling a gruff Sly Stone on the title track -- one of a handful of tunes that reminisce on his hardscrabble upbringing -- this is the sound of a fully developed singer/songwriter finally getting his break. When he cries, "Sometimes I get a little ... scared," it's a chilling moment infused both by his gospel roots and his tempestuous career.

Although the silky mood, slow jam-groove and quiet storm backing seldom vary, Hamilton's shaken-and-stirred voice and his obvious love of old-school R&B mesh with Dupri's contemporary touch make this one of the most soulful and sexy albums of the year.

Anthony Hamilton plays the Cotton Club Wed., Nov. 26. $17.50-$20.

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