Pride In The Name of Lalah

Lalah Hathaway: Where It All Begins

Lalah Hathaway has been a fan-favorite R&B chanteuse to the world and, in particular, to the LGBT community ever since her first self-titled album was released in 1990. In loving return, she continues to support the gay community by speaking out and standing up for our gay issues whenever the subject of her widely diverse audience has been addressed. Hathaway’s more than talk – she’s been out on the stage walking the walk, with her subtle but ever so fiery interludes between the songs.

Just in time for Palm Springs Pride, Lalah’s fifth solo recording, Where It All Begins, has been released to a flurry of critical praise. Lalah continues to infuse R&B, Pop & Jazz through the warmth of her voice as it glides effortlessly over the beautiful lyrics & melodies, half of which she co-wrote. In case you’re unaware of her musical roots, Lalah’s the daughter of the late R&B legend Donny Hathaway, who was a soul staple in the 1970s – most famously and commercially with his professional duet partner, Roberta Flack.

Where It All Begins kicks off with the kick-ass, no-nonsense track “Strong Woman,” defining what this woman and this disc is all about. The track segues into the rhythm and bluesy title track, and this is where the album and the Lalah I fell in love with all those years ago really begins, no pun intended.  It carries an old-school flavor with gorgeous harmonies reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire with a Stevie Wonder gait.

The 55-minute journey continues with the upbeat and positively fun “My Everything” and then takes a mid-tempo turn on the lyrically sensual “Small Of My Back,” which carries a groove with an effective stop-and-go beat that pulses down your spine ever so smoothly.

I always dislike making comparisons from one singer to another, but the track “If You Want To” could’ve easily been lifted from one of Chaka Khan’s best. It conveys that toe-tapping, head-shaking vibe that Lalah confronts, and the results are simply sublime.

Halfway through the session, we are treated to a bittersweet mid-tempo melody matched with equally bittersweet lyrics that describe the familiar theme of a relationship and the work that everyone that’s ever been in love knows all too well, and how they will sincerely “Always Love You” no matter what.

“Wrong Way” is a great departure from the rest of the disc, feeling very much like the singer/songwriter era that was so popular in the 70s. But the song doesn’t sound dated at all. It’s a newly written composition that works as well in today’s climate as it could have four decades ago. In other words, it’s pop perfection, and any fan of that genre will feel the warmth and coziness that accompanies the heart and hook of this timeless tune.

Interestingly enough, Hathaway deliberately saved the slow and sultry R&B ballads for the final three tracks of the album. This is hardly a conventional way of sequencing a disc, but with the warm glow of Lalah’s vocals, it works magnificently. They are as follows: “You Were Meant For Me,” a stunning love song that’ll make you swoon if you’re lucky enough to be in love, and yet manages more than a glimmer of hope that it will all work itself out if you’re not quite there yet. One of Lalah’s most famous compositions, “I’m Coming Back,” is an astonishing duet with the legendary R&B/Jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell. Their smooth-as-silk vocals intertwine on one of the most beautiful ballads I’ve heard in ages. It’s truly a standout among the dozen tracks. Last up, Hathaway soothes us into “Dreamland,” and as much as I don’t care to make comparisons, I dare you not to hear the quiet beauty of Lalah’s late father’s duet partner, Roberta Flack. The arrangement is so sweet and simple, it’s sure to (dare I say it) whisk you off to Lalah land.

Lalah embraces her love of this music. She said, “My hope is to continue to make timeless art for people… in a way I feel like my dad came here in part so that I could get here – and I am here so that he can stay here. I was born for this.”

After hearing this latest collection of songs, there should be no disputing that statement.

© 2011 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.