Anthony Hamilton 

Southern Comfort (Merovingian)

Things have never been easy for Anthony Hamilton, that platinum-selling neo-soul crooner. Bouncing from label to label, Hamilton reached 30 without any sign of real success. That was when the North Carolina native put together Southern Comfort, which was recorded between 2000 and '02, but promptly shelved. Less assured than 2003's Comin' From Where I'm From, Hamilton's first bona fide hit, this LP is written from the always refreshing perspective of a guy who hasn't got a pot to piss in.

Southern Comfort's tales of struggle are perhaps prescient of the next stage in Hamilton's career. Threatening to drop into obscurity once again, his last album of original material, 2005's Ain't Nobody Worryin', sold poorly when compared to Comin' From, and the barely publicized Southern Comfort probably won't sell much either. But if it brings Hamilton back to a place where he can make overachieving mid-tempo hum-alongs such as "Magnolia's Room" and "Don't Say What You Won't Do" -- Southern Comfort's standout tracks -- we, at least, won't be any poorer for it.

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