LALAH HATHAWAY: ‘Self Portrait’ (Label: Stax)

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LALAH HATHAWAY: 'Self Portrait'

When it was announced last year that a revitalised Stax Records had signed Lalah Hathaway – eldest daughter of ’70s soul legend, Donny – it sounded to many soul fans like a musical marriage made in heaven. In view of the Memphis record label’s rich and illustrious history and Lalah’s undeniable musical pedigree, expectations have been high – but whether they’ve been met by this 12-track long player is open to debate. Some dedicated soul fans I know have been slightly disappointed by this, Ms. Hathaway’s fourth solo venture, claiming it’s too bland, laid-back and rendered in a style that chimes with radio-friendly smooth jazz rather than the earthy gospel-soul that Stax became renowned for in the 1960s and ’70s. Even if that perception has more than a grain of truth to it – certainly ‘Self Portrait’ is mellow to the point of being soporific in places – there’s no denying the smoky-hued, sonorous beauty of Lalah’s voice, which is at its best on the mid-tempo ‘For Always,’ arguably the killer cut. Running it a close second is ‘That Was Then,’ another gorgeous mid-paced ballad that allows Ms. Hathaway’s creamy contralto to shine at its brightest. ‘Learning To Swim’ is slower and more melancholy and coloured by atmospheric instrumental touches. ‘1 Mile’ sustains the low-key mood even though it ups the tempo a tad and features a rap. It’s eclipsed by the poignantly autobiographical tune, ‘Little Girl,’ another down-tempo number, the philosophical ‘What Goes Around’ and the mesmeric, dreamy, nocturnal groove, ‘Tragic Inevitability.’ Overall, there’s nothing that really reaches out and grabs you here – rather it’s an album whose subtlety, introspective character and languorous mood eventually seduces you with repeated listens. I’m a sucker for Ms. Hathaway’s lush, golden tones but I must confess I’d like to hear her branch out and try her hand at something a little different just to illustrate her versatility. Maybe next time then…
(CW) 3/5