Key To Music Grades

A - You will never be whole without it
B - Highly recommended
C - Flawed, but still pretty good
D - It's your money, not mine
F - Why couldn't this have been burned in Fahrenheit 451?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Donny Hathaway - Donny Hathway (1971)

This little long player consists of Donny's expansion from his eclectic compositions on Everything Is Everything to then-current musical styles -- which is to say, all of these songs (except one) are covers. Normally, this is a poor decision -- think Bowie's Pin-Ups -- but Donny does to the originals what most do with Dylan songs: make them supremely better. I find Leon Russell's "A Song For You" to be particularly grating, but Donny's version feels like it's his song, and many oblivious to Mr. Russell probably thought it was his to begin with, so who's to argue? It's one of Donny's greatest songs and showcases his seemingly effortless ability to weave his voice around any lyric, mood or musical set-piece. In fact, besides the perfection that is Sinatra, Donny is probably one of the most treasured voices I've ever heard. It's a shame he snuffed it, and even a greater shame that he's being given the Thelonious Monk treatment as a misguided eccentric. "Giving Up" opens the album, and establishes fairly quickly that the cheerful optimism expressed on his first record was not to be repeated here; and despite my own depraved religious sensibilities, the gospel-like numbers -- especially "Put Your Hand In The Hand" -- are thoroughly rousing, even if they are steeped in a subtext of hopeless longing. Covers aside, the vocal renditions may not be as brilliant as on Everything Is Everything or the music as complex as on Extension Of A Man, but the album still bears the mark of Donny, through and through, and deserves consideration just for that. B

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