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Definitely The Outcome Of A Great Talent In A Musically Awkward Place
on October 21, 2011
There is no doubt in my mind,or likely anyone whose heard here that Lalah Hathaway is a tremendous musical talent. Easily a kind of successor to her famous father. But as we've seen in the cases of Janet Jackson,Natalie Cole,Whitney Houston,Edgar Winter and Julian Lennon having a musical talented and/or successful relative (either parent or sibling) can create that unfortunate shadow effect. Lalah herself has been one to handle it fairly well herself I must say. She never exactly put too much emphasize on using her name to advance her career too much. She's very much a separate entity from her dad. In fact her silky,deep,husky,almost Sarah Vaughn like singing style sets her very much apart from many female artists working in the modern R&B world. Emerging along with artists such as Angie Stone on the reformed Stax record label Lalah Hathaway would seem to have all the elements for a major creative success. But for some reason I always avoided her music. Not because I didn't like her. But had heard her name more than her music. And in a way after hearing this I can hear why.
For one thing,and it's no insult to the talented Lalah but the musical platform she uses for this album is just too close to that of Jill Scott. In fact a lot of the songs,in particular the opener "Let's Go" make a mildly uncomfortable usage of neo soul and even contemporary R&B cliches (such as that extremely irritating "robot voice" vocal stabalizer which,while only used on this one tune,a singer of her caliber doesn't need one bit) and therefore don't do justice to Hathaway's wonderfully way of vocally twisting her own unique melodies. Lyrically the album is an altogether different matter. Honestly this is more of a singer-songwriter type project where the music and instrumentation is outweighed by the lyrics and songwriting. It's about love. But not really romantic. Lalah reminds us throughout that there are many sorts of love. And all of them can present complications that encourage or hinder our progress in equal measure. Her lyrical approach is heartfelt and poetic. It's only really on the musically challanging "Naked Truth",with it's futurefunk mix of bass synths and rhodes piano that music and material meet in the most pleasing possible way.
In terms of writing and vocals,I'd describe this as a five star album all the way. But in all honesty a lot of the music presented here is very typical. A friend once quoted a contemporary R&B artist,Beyonce' I believe in pointing out how mid tempo music tended to be the less complex to interpret vocally. And that's why so many artists shy away much else,especially the uptempo end of things. Now Lalah is possessed of the type of vocal instrument that could interpret music of all tempos. The highs,lows and creamy middles are all there in abundance. And perhaps taken as something of a poetic audio biography there's a certain logic to having a good deal of the music sound so much alike. But the spiritually personal lyrics,straight up from the strong gospel soul and jazz tradition really deserves as broad a musical pallet. And that's why I put the three stars. Conceptually,it's every bit as sound as one would hope for. In terms of musical variety,it pales far more often than not.