Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Lalah Hathaway: Keeping It in the family

Lalah Hathaway
Lalah Hathaway Lalah Hathaway

As with Simone (the daughter of Nina Simone) â also featured in this edition of âBlues & Soulâ â Lalah Hathaway has always been aware of her family roots and musical heritage:

indeed, itâs no surprise that both ladies were featured as part of the âDaughters Of Soulâ tour which has been seen in different cities in Europe and beyond. While Simone has been busy making a name for herself on Broadway (âAida,â âRent,â etc.) for a decade or more, Lalahâs focus has been on recording since the early â90s 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 â three with Sandra St. Victor (âDaughters Of Soulâ 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 materialâ¦

âYes, this is my most personal album and most real,â Lalah agrees. âIâm 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.â Lalah says that her collaborations with Sandra came after working with her on the âDaughters Of Soulâ tours: âWe became good friends and sheâs someone I trust. I remember I was having a hard time saying what I wanted with one song â that was on a Monday â Sandra was there in L.A. on Friday!â Lalahâs written with Rahsaan before and she says, âHeâs 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!â

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 âreap what you sowâ: âYes, 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! Iâm constantly re-learning â and swimming is one of those things I have to re-learn but of course, the song is metaphorical to my life.â

With a title like 'Tragic Inevitability,â'thereâs no second guessing that Lalahâs inspiration for it was âa specific situation. It was written with a couple of the guys who are in the âDaughters Of Soulâ 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.â The unusually titled 'Udo (Unidentified Divine Object)' is, Lalah says, âsuch a cool songâ¦different from what people expect from meâ and thereâs an interesting story behind 'On Your Own' as Lalah shares: âWhen 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 didnât 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 musicâ¦â

When Lalah mentions this, I ask if she is aware of an unreleased track that Donny did entitled 'Make It on Your Own'. Sheâs 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! âPeople who knew my Dad tell me how much alike we are,â Lalah says. âWhatâs been great is how many people come up to me now and say, âI love your father but I LOVE you too!â I get so much love from being my fatherâs daughter and itâs so gratifyingâ¦â

Lalah takes a moment to survey her career and notes, âItâs a funny thing. I havenât sold millions of records, I havenât had any gold records or No. 1 hits but I feel really successful. Iâve 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 itâs very fulfilling and I do feel like Iâve 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 âboom, itâs doneâ. 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 (1999âs '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 outâ¦â

Signing with Stax - âwhich Iâm very excited about because so many of my fatherâs contemporaries were thereâ â is definitely like a new chapter for Lalah, who says sheâs âcautiously optimistic! Iâm very wary about the state of the music business but I have to say that this is the first time Iâve made a record where I got signed, I went into the studio and now itâs out â all within a short time. I keep hearing amazing things from people about the new record, about how they love the songs. Theyâll say, âGirl, I can listen to your record all the way through!â and thatâs really beautiful. Yes, Iâm so proud of my record â everything was done the way I wanted it to be. Itâs definitely my best album so far and my new hope is that each one will be better than the last!â To paraphrase The Winans and Anita Baker, âainât no need of worryin,â Lalah â for what itâs worth, 'Self Portrait' is not only your best, most consistent and flowing record to date, itâs also one of 2008âs best soul albums, no doubt about it.
Words DAVID NATHAN

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