Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Lalah Hathaway: Keeping It in the family

Lalah Hathaway
Lalah Hathaway Lalah Hathaway

As with Simone (the daughter of Nina Simone) – also featured in this edition of “Blues & Soul” – Lalah Hathaway has always been aware of her family roots and musical heritage:

indeed, it’s no surprise that both ladies were featured as part of the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ tour which has been seen in different cities in Europe and beyond. While Simone has been busy making a name for herself on Broadway (“Aida,” “Rent,” etc.) for a decade or more, Lalah’s focus has been on recording since the early ‘90s when she signed with Virgin Records. Some eighteen years later, we have her fifth album, 'Self Portrait' which also marks her debut for Stax/Concord and what a great record it is! Distinct from before, Lalah co-wrote all of the songs on the set – three with Sandra St. Victor (‘Daughters Of Soul’ producer) and a couple of another longtime friend Rahsaan Patterson. That she was directly involved in the writing process is immediately evident: songs like 'What Goes Around,' 'Learning To Swim,' 'Tragic Inevitability' and 'On Your Own' are particularly personal so any discussion of the album centers around the inspiration for such material…

“Yes, this is my most personal album and most real,” Lalah agrees. “I’m more vulnerable on it and absolutely, I had some trepidation about that but I surround myself with great people who help me raise my level as an artist.” Lalah says that her collaborations with Sandra came after working with her on the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ tours: “We became good friends and she’s someone I trust. I remember I was having a hard time saying what I wanted with one song – that was on a Monday – Sandra was there in L.A. on Friday!” Lalah’s written with Rahsaan before and she says, “He’s a real craftsman. With the song 'Let Go,' Rex had a part of the track and I had the hook. Rahsaan came over and in two hours, we were done!”

We continue by talking about other songs on the album such as 'What Goes Around,' a song sure to resonate with anyone who believes in the credo of ‘reap what you sow’: “Yes, the idea for it came from a particular incident but it caused me to look at the overall idea that what goes around does come around. I worked on it with (co-producer) Paula Galitano and as soon as she started working on the track, the whole concept came into my head. 'Learning To Swim' was first written in 1993 when I was in Bermuda and a friend was really trying to teach me to swim! I’m constantly re-learning – and swimming is one of those things I have to re-learn but of course, the song is metaphorical to my life.”

With a title like 'Tragic Inevitability,”'there’s no second guessing that Lalah’s inspiration for it was “a specific situation. It was written with a couple of the guys who are in the ‘Daughters Of Soul’ band: they said they wanted to write with me and I told them to come up with something that was in the Bjork, Ambient, Radiohead vein. I came up with the lyric when I was standing in front of the microphone! I think the song is like a conversation between two people.” The unusually titled 'Udo (Unidentified Divine Object)' is, Lalah says, “such a cool song…different from what people expect from me” and there’s an interesting story behind 'On Your Own' as Lalah shares: ”When I first started working with (producer) Rex Rideout on this album, he played me a track which had the same kind of 6/8 feel as 'Forever, For Always, For Love' (the Luther Vandross song Lalah sang on the Verve tribute CD of the same name a few years ago). I didn’t want to do anything with it to start with and it ended up being the last song we recorded: it was inspired by a dream I had about my father in which he gave me all this music…”

When Lalah mentions this, I ask if she is aware of an unreleased track that Donny did entitled 'Make It on Your Own'. She’s completely take aback and knew nothing of the song! I promptly offered to send her an MP3 and after she heard it, she was amazed! “People who knew my Dad tell me how much alike we are,” Lalah says. “What’s been great is how many people come up to me now and say, ‘I love your father but I LOVE you too!’ I get so much love from being my father’s daughter and it’s so gratifying…”

Lalah takes a moment to survey her career and notes, “It’s a funny thing. I haven’t sold millions of records, I haven’t had any gold records or No. 1 hits but I feel really successful. I’ve been able to do what I love for the last twenty years. My dogs are fed, I have a great group of people around me so it’s very fulfilling and I do feel like I’ve been really blessed. In some ways, I feel like a late bloomer and this new record feels like my first one. When I look back, I remember my first album for Virgin: I was so young. I came out to L.A. on the train from going to school in Boston and it was like ‘boom, it’s done’. The second record, music was changing and so were all the A&R people at Virgin. Then, my third record was the collaboration with Joe Sample (1999’s 'The Song Lives On') was precious, a classic. With my fourth CD, 'Outrun The Sky' (released in 2004), it took so long to get to a place where we could find a company to put it out…”

Signing with Stax - “which I’m very excited about because so many of my father’s contemporaries were there” – is definitely like a new chapter for Lalah, who says she’s “cautiously optimistic! I’m very wary about the state of the music business but I have to say that this is the first time I’ve made a record where I got signed, I went into the studio and now it’s out – all within a short time. I keep hearing amazing things from people about the new record, about how they love the songs. They’ll say, ‘Girl, I can listen to your record all the way through!’ and that’s really beautiful. Yes, I’m so proud of my record – everything was done the way I wanted it to be. It’s definitely my best album so far and my new hope is that each one will be better than the last!” To paraphrase The Winans and Anita Baker, ‘ain’t no need of worryin,’ Lalah – for what it’s worth, 'Self Portrait' is not only your best, most consistent and flowing record to date, it’s also one of 2008’s best soul albums, no doubt about it.

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