Whatever Anthony Lamarr is, he's not just an R&B singer. It's easy to mistake him for that, considering his high-profile moment singing the hook in the Wisconsin Badgers rap anthem "We're Smelling Roses."
Dig deeper and you'll find that Lamarr has released three albums in three years, beginning with 2010's sprawling Opening Night: A Symphony from Sorrow and culminating with Act Two: The Way of the World, the new LP he unveils at the Froth House on Nov. 1. Along with 2011's Intermission: The Learning Never Stops, the three recordings form a trilogy that highlights Lamarr's faith and his willingness to tackle almost any genre.
"When is there going to be a new genre of music?" he asks, rhetorically, when describing his craft. "I want to be one of those pioneers who try something new, because otherwise, music is just the same. It never evolves."
On Act Two, Lamarr fuses elements of rock, funk, folk, hip-hop, classical and African music. The album opens with the beautiful, bizarre title track, which finds him rap-singing "Put faith into the Lord and you will never speak defeat" over a beat and the prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. This stunning song sets the tone for the rest of the album. It's clear that Lamarr is confident his pristine voice and strong faith can carry him across any style of music.
Raised in Madison, Lamarr sang in Edgewood High School's choir before graduating in 2001. But his voice really started to take shape in the Mount Zion Baptist Church children's choir. He later studied music and theater at the University of Minnesota, then returned to Madison and joined Mike Droho & the Compass Rose as a vocal percussionist.
"Being in that world, we've crossed paths in many circles," Lamarr says, describing how he met local musicians like bluesman Aaron Williams and Sexy Ester vocalist Lyndsay Evans and began to conceive how they would fit into the concept of his solo material. The trilogy's roster of guest artists soon expanded to include cellist Pat Reinholz, drummer Joey Banks, singers Beth Kille and Anna Vogelzang, and MCs J. Dante and Rob Dz.
From the beginning, Scott Lamps has helped keep Lamarr's ambitious project on track. Lamarr stresses how lucky he was to work with this local producer and multi-instrumentalist, and Lamps sounds just as enthusiastic to be a part of Lamarr's expansive vision.
"Anthony is exploring so many different musical ideas," says Lamps. "It was a great challenge and a great opportunity for me and all of us who were involved in the project to push our musical boundaries."
It's a bold approach indeed. The straight hip-hop loop "Elevation" sneaks in a breakdown filled with soaring voices and churning organ, only to snap right back to the beat in time for a verse from Madison rapper D.L.O. This is a world where dusty accordion and a German spoken-word interlude fill out the sweet breakup anthem "Auf Wiedersehen." And, of course, it's a place Lamarr can proclaim his faith.
"Everybody that's around me knows that I'm a Christian, I'm spiritual, and I believe in God," Lamarr says. "It wouldn't be doing me any justice or any justice for my listeners if I wasn't being honest in my music and my songwriting."
But it would be a disservice to call this music Christian or squeeze it into the box of another genre. It's a wide, scattered universe with one man in the middle, holding it all together.