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For Mature Audiences Only 

Angie Stone and Anthony Hamilton explore the most grown-up of pleasures: normalcy

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Angie Stone and Anthony Hamilton

Angie Stone and Anthony Hamilton have christened their tour Silk and Sandpaper, which describes the range they share better than it does any contrast between them--they've both worked on the soft and hard edges of R & B, collaborating with D'Angelo and members of the Ruff Ryders. Both of them traffic in an emotional maturity about love that's rare to nonexistent on pop charts--except when their songs are on them. They reduce life to the bare necessities--and even the bare walls. As Stone sings on her latest album, Stone Love (J Records), "I remember when we had no furniture / Just a color TV...and we both so happy." When love's this good, who needs a couch?

Neo-soul--the inheritor of Drifters soul, 70s Stax soul, and Betty Wright soul--aspires to precisely this sort of normalcy. It's grown folks music, as BET puts it, and Angie Stone's 1999 solo debut, Black Diamond, helped pave the way for its resurgence. Stone and Hamilton embrace traditional values as well as old-fashioned music. Their themes predate the now-era of one-dimensional people collecting material things and dead-end encounters. Their music lacks the grandiosity of R. Kelly's sex-death-circus metaphors or Juvenile's kiddie-lewd seduction plays; it's sexy for its humanness, mad and raging and warts and all. Many R & B acts pay lip service to that notion, but Stone and Hamilton actually sing it.

Stone, a blue-jeans-majestic kinda lady, wears her soul not just on her sleeve but in her ear: she rocks a fist-sized medallion earring in her right lobe that declares soul in gold wire. Raised on gospel in Columbia, South Carolina, she moved to New York in the late 70s. Her resume is now 25 years long, including stints as Angie B (in the pioneering Sugar Hill female rap group the Sequence), cowriting with her ex-boyfriend D'Angelo, and heading up Vertical Hold, a mid-90s dance and R & B act. Her contemporaries Jill Scott and Erykah Badu also deal with the drama of the everywoman, but Stone is neo-soul's matriarch. In both words and music she positions herself as the experienced woman, the one who's moved past Badu and Scott's Afro-bohemia and into adulthood.

That allows Stone to be more than just a neo-soul icon--she can be an equalizer in the gender wars. When Snoop Dogg guests on Stone Love's "I Wanna Thank Ya" he raps sensitively about "the way we make love in the dark"--the pit bull turned reverent puppy. Stone's at her best when she's telling off cheating lovers, with assists from Missy Elliott and Tweet on the Stone Love breakup song "U-Haul" or alone on Mahogany Soul's (2001) "Pissed Off." "I wasn't going to succumb in the battle for myself," she told Essence in 2003. "That's the pride people hear in my voice now. The pride of a woman."

Anthony Hamilton's music is thoroughly about the pride of a man--though his idea of spitting game is by presenting himself as "cornbread, fish, and collard greens." On his 2003 album Comin' From Where I'm From (So So Def/Arista), he's a full southern meal, a grown-ass man. "It's saying food, but it's not really talking about food," he narrates on a live version of 2003's Comin' From Where I'm From, downloadable off iTunes. "It's talking about giving food for thought, guidance, direction, and support, but there's no other way to tell you I'm a complete man than to put myself in the form of cornbread, fish, and collard greens. I'm sure everybody could consider that a complete meal; that's my way of saying I'm a complete man." Mmmm, complete man.

Like Stone, Hamilton is a New Yorker by way of the Carolinas; he moved to the city 11 years ago from Charlotte, eventually singing backup for D'Angelo. And with D'Angelo conspicuously absent and R. Kelly only intermittently interested in reality, Hamilton is pretty much the only soul man in the game right now. Live, he sings with the conviction of a preacher, though his passions are thoroughly secular. Ladies love him because he sings to us, but I love him more when he sings about us, be it on the praiseful "Charlene" or the grave and beautiful "Lucille," where Hamilton tells the other side of the Kenny Rogers song of the same name. In Hamilton's version, a woman leaves him for her alcoholic, abusive lover across town. When he really lets loose he sounds like a young Tina Turner, with the raw effusiveness of someone deeply immersed in the world of which he sings.

Comin' From Where I'm From was nominated for three Grammys last year, and struck out three times. But Hamilton hit pay dirt this summer, singing on the anguished chorus of Jadakiss's Top Ten hit "Why?" That song's popularity surely helped his current single, "Charlene," land its own spot in the R & B Top Ten; now it's hard to believe he was ever just a backup singer, or that two earlier albums remain unreleased thanks to label turmoil.

When Stone and Hamilton team up, they double each other's power. Singing Stone Love's "Stay for a While" at the first Silk and Sandpaper concert in Westbury, New York, in September they riffed off each other, with Stone controlling the moment. "Saaaay my name," she demanded, choked up with vibrato. Hamilton responded like he was testifying--"Angie, Angie Stoonnnne," he answered, bending backward and practically falling over. As the band crescendoed, the moment grew as sensual as it had been spiritual. "If we could just lay for awhile," goes the chorus, "Let me ease your mind / Help you to unwind / Spend a little quality time." That's how grown folks fantasize--they claim the normal as extraordinary.

When: Fri 10/22, 7:30 PM

Where: Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee

Price: $45.75

Info: 312-559-1212

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