Lalah Hathaway - Where It All Begins (2011)

Lalah Hathaway
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Comparing Lalah Hathaway to her iconic father, the late soul icon Donny Hathaway, is as inevitable as it is expected, thanks to their nearly-identical doe eyes, apple cheeks and the rich, raspy undertones that their vocals convey. Her smoky, supple alto and ability to embody the emotions of a song, no matter the genre, is what makes her fifth solo venture and second recording for the Stax label, Where It All Begins, such a fabulous and full-bodied experience.

Comparing Lalah Hathaway to her iconic father, the late soul icon Donny Hathaway, is as inevitable as it is expected, thanks to their nearly-identical doe eyes, apple cheeks and the rich, raspy undertones that their vocals convey. Her smoky, supple alto and ability to embody the emotions of a song, no matter the genre, is what makes her fifth solo venture and second recording for the Stax label, Where It All Begins, such a fabulous and full-bodied experience.

Almost anyone else spreading five solo albums over a twenty year time span would struggle to maintain a fan base, but this is an inimitable performer at work, and those who appreciate Ms. Hathaway’s skill sets realize that music like hers cannot be rushed. 2008’s Self-Portrait, while luxurious, may have been a bit too languid for some of her listeners, so the abundance of moods and mid-tempos represented on Where….., afforded by mixing it up with a variety of collaborators (Eddie Serrano, Dre & Vidal, Lee Hutson Jr., Rahsaan Patterson and Mike City, to name a few), make this set worth the wait.  She forges fearlessly into wherever the music takes her, whether it’s into awe-filled enchantment (“Small of My Back”), pulsating passion (“Lie To Me”) and even raw rebuke, as evidenced in the opening track “Strong Woman,” which is arguably the funkiest we’ve heard Ms. Hathaway in years: “Cuz’ you never know what you got, til’ it’s gone, til’ it’s gone, and you ain’t never gonna stop, until you’re alone, all alone/You’re about to lose a strong woman….”

With such a long list of writers, co-writers and producers, a lesser artist would’ve struggled to maintain his or her identity or allowed the arrangements overwhelm them, but Ms. Hathaway retains her finesse and never relinquishes control of that finely-honed croon: her sandy, soothing husk of an alto both anchors and levitates within the mantra of a title track (“Keeping up with the Jones ain’t gon’ never get you anywhere/same job, same car…is that who you really are?”), then glides atop the sparkling “If You Want To” with agility and enthusiasm. The moody “Always Love You” leaves conventional R&B behind and becomes compelling, thanks to Lalah’s nimbly-nuanced delivery, and the contemplative “This Could Be Love” channels all of the anxiety and abandon of  new relationships, making expert use of her throaty range. Followers more accustomed to her urban, soul and jazz roots might consider “My Everything” and “Wrong Way” to be drastic departures, since they veer unexpectedly into dance and country territories, respectively, but the showcasing of her lesser-known upper register makes for intriguing listens. It probably wasn’t intentional, but a pair of remakes----“I’m Coming Back” and “You Were Meant For Me”---- demonstrate all of the qualities that keep Ms. Hathaway so in-demand: the former, a re-visited fan favorite from her 1990 debut, becomes exotic, airy and ethereal (featuring the incomparable Rachelle Ferrelle), while the latter, a ballad made timeless by her famous father, is patterned closely enough to recognize similarities between the two, yet rendered with enough assurance and originality for Ms. Hathaway to re-brand it all her own.

Thanks to her undeniable gifts and impeccable bloodline, Lalah Hathaway probably wouldn’t lose many followers if she chose to recycle catalog hits year after year on stage and in the studio. Luckily for us, however, this multi-talented songstress, lyricist and performer is willing and able to reach higher and dig deeper, cementing her own legacy while embodying the best of her musical lineage in the process. Soulful, sublime and brimming with virtuosity, Where It All Begins is essential listening for Lalah lovers and one of 2011’s very best. Enthusiastically Recommended.

By Melody Charles

 

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