Cherry Red’s 90/9 imprint celebrates the early works of the multi-Grammy winner soul-jazz singer Lalah Hathaway with a new collection called It’s Something: The Virgin Years. Fully approved by Hathaway, the 2-CD set brings together her self-titled debut and her follow-up Virgin album A Moment and is supplemented with a wealth of bonus material, including hard-to-find remixes, single edits, B-sides, and the Japan-exclusive track “Night and Day.” Add to it the 20-page booklet of rare photographs, liner notes, interviews, and discographical information and the collection promises to be a must for fans.
Even before the Grammy wins and the ASCAP Award, Lalah Hathaway was destined for musical greatness. Thanks to late father Donny Hathaway, soul music was in her blood. At 19, the Berklee student had not only gigged with Joe Sample and Marcus Miller, but also secured a deal with Virgin Records. She’d stay on the label for five years and record two long-players: 1990’s Lalah Hathaway and the long-out-of-print 1994 follow-up, A Moment. Both titles have been remastered for It’s Something. They show Hathaway experimenting, finding her groove, and ultimately succeeding in delivering the goods in a whole range of styles that were in some cases placed on her by the industry.
Though Hathaway no doubt had the chops to record, she was still a fish-out-of-water when it came to dealing with A&R reps, whose selections ranged from pop, soul, straight-ahead jazz, and swing-beat. As she explains to Adam Mattera in the collection’s in-depth liner notes, “I had three or four different A&R people and everybody had a different vision of who they thought I was. I don’t know if at the moment I really knew myself […] I didn’t even realize then I had the power to say ‘I don’t want to do that’ – I kind of just showed up and did my best to kill every song they put in front of me.”
And that she did. Even the so-called “exercises” that appear on her debut have a certain vocal commitment that belies any possible misgivings Hathaway may have had. And the results resonated with audiences, too, as the album broke the Top 20 on the R&B Albums chart and gave way to three hit singles.
The first, “Heaven Knows,” was produced by Derek Bramble, whose credits at that point included Heatwave, Angela Bofill, and David Bowie. The Brit Soul-inspired groove was first recorded by Jaki Graham and with Bramble’s laid-back but ever-danceable programmed beat, synth strings and gorgeous layers of backing vocals, not to mention Hathaway’s yearning vocal, it was a sure-fire success that peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.
The Angela Winbush-produced “Baby Don’t Cry” was another success, reaching No. 18 on the R&B rankings. The experience of recording it made an impression on the young Hathaway. “I was just ecstatic to get the chance to work with Angela Winbush … to meet a woman who was doing what I’d previously only seen men do was was tremendous to me — just to work with a woman who really knew her way around a studio. She was such a great producer and a great player and a great singer, and a great writer. It inspired me in ways I’m still figuring out now.” Its vocal refrain recalls “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Hathaway’s elastic vocals – angular and shifting from high vocal runs to Chaka Khan-like guttural interjections – are on full display.
The album’s opener, “Something,” reached No. 21 on the R&B chart. Previously recorded by Brenda Russell in 1983 and Donna Washington two years earlier, Hathaway’s take features her inimitable vocal chops with no holds barred; just check out those gorgeous multitracked harmonies. Add to it the sultry synth beds from producer Andre Fischer, Marc Russo’s wailing sax solo, and the ever-steady groove by drummer extraordinaire Jeff Porcaro, and it’s no wonder the track was selected as the album’s lead-off track. Nearly thirty years on, the song remains popular. In fact, Hathaway recently revisited the tune with jazz-funk outfit Snarky Puppy, who included a new arrangment of the song on their 2013 Family Dinner album. In what Hathaway called “one of those full-circle moments,” the track she first cut at 19 ended up winning a Grammy for best R&B Performance, proving the song’s lasting power.
The album includes several other highlights, like the dancefloor-ready “Obvious” and the slow-grooving, sax-led closer “I Gotta Move On,” but fans will want to keep listening as Disc One is complemented by hard-to-find mixes of the album’s key tracks. There’s the radio edit of “Baby Don’t Cry,” which cleverly quotes Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter #23,” plus the higher-octane Yvonne Turner remix of “Heaven Knows,” the Smoove and Sassy remix and spacey 12″ mix of “It’s Something,” and many more. These edits were instrumental in bringing the album’s songs to different audiences on the airwaves and on dance floors, no doubt contributing to the success of Hathaway’s debut.
When it came time to follow-up her first LP, the pressure was on. “That’s when people started saying, ‘Will you do a Donny Hathaway tribute record? Will you do a Natalie Cole/Nat King Cole record?” she recalls in the liner notes. But Hathaway wasn’t eager to cash in on her last name or go the easy route with a tribute album. And while the listening public would have to wait a long four years for her next album, Hathaway delivered some stunning material on singles and international releases in the interim. In 1991, Japanese fans were treated to an exclusive EP, Night and Day, which featured not only a straight-ahead interpretation of the Cole Porter classic, but also a stunning a capella mix of the track. Both versions feature as bonus tracks on Disc Two. The same year, Hathaway was featured on B.E.F.’s reinterpretation of Sly Stone’s “Family Affair” and appeared alongside Grover Washington, Jr. on his “Love Like This” (included on Cherry Red’s recent box set of the saxman’s Columbia albums).
Finally, Hathaway released her long-awaited follow-up, A Moment, in 1994, but not without experiencing her fair share of industry drama. “The label was going through a lot of upheaval at the time – I went through, like, five or six A&R people while I was there…which is kind of unheard of now.” Once again, Hathaway teamed up with an array of producers and though the moment may have passed for another hit album, A Moment is not without its standouts. There’s the aforementioned “Family Affair” (featuring Billy Preston on keys), plus the funky earworms “Let Me Love You” and “Lean On Me” (not that “Lean On Me”), sultry ballads like “Better As A Memory” and “Long After You’ve Gone,” and Hathaway’s first solo writing credit, the intimate and touching piano ballad “So They Say.” These tracks are supplemented on Cherry Red’s reissue with a gripping vocal-and-strings version of “Separate Ways,” the Bed Time mix of “Let Me Love You,” the Club version of “Dreams Don’t Lie” (previously available on the “Let Me Love You” cassingle), and those stunning versions of “Night and Day.”
While Lalah Hathaway would go on to bigger and brighter things in the future, her early work on Virgin – before all the accolades and awards – show that even at a young age, she was full of talent and vision. It’s Something: The Virgin Years gives listeners a chance to hear where it all started, with that classic debut and her hard-to-find follow-up presented together for the first time ever, complete with those essential alternate versions, singles, and mixes that present the full picture of the talented singer’s beginnings.
It’s Something: The Virgin Years is available now wherever fine music is sold, including on Amazon. You can order your copy and check out the track listing for the collection below!
Disc 1: Lalah Hathaway (originally Virgin LP 91382-1, 1991)
2. Heaven Knows
3. Baby Don’t Cry
5. U-Godit Gowin On
7. Stay Home Tonight
8. I’m Coming Back
10. I Gotta Move On
11. Heaven Knows (7″ Version)
12. It’s Somethin’ (Radio Mix)
13. Baby Don’t Cry (Radio Version)
14. Heaven Knows (Yvonne Turner Remix)
15. It’s Somethin’ (12″ Mix)
16. Baby Don’t Cry (Crybaby Club Version)
17. Somethin’ (Smoove & Sassy Mix)
Disc 2: A Moment (originally Virgin CD 7243 8 39542 2 3, 1994)
1. Let Me Love You
3. Family Affair
4. These Are the Things (You Do to Me)
5. Do You Suppose
6. Better as a Memory
7. Bad by Myself
8. Lean on Me
9. Separate Ways
10. Long After U Have Gone
11. I’m Not Over You
12. A Moment
13. So They Say
14. Night and Day
15. Let Me Love You (Bed Time Mix)
16. Dreams Don’t Lie (Club Mix)
17. Separate Ways (Stringapella)
18. Night and Day (Acappella Version)