Donny Hathaway – 1972 – Live
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Donnie Hathaway – Live – is one of those really rare in-person performance, where everything comes together, you don’t just get the music, you get the sweat, the movement, the cachunk, the entire spectrum of emotion.
Hathaway was not a virtuoso singer, but it would be hard to find another performer able to deliver more raw sincerity. His electric piano playing is really stellar here, especially on Hey Girl, where he weaves a hypnotic trance. Without exception, the band is loose and relaxed, completely aligned with each other and Hathaway’s objectives.
Hathaway was, and is, the real thing. While his celebrated duets with Roberta Flack are sweet, polished, and reliably popular, if you want to experience the raw talent and heart that make him undeniably great, “This is it.”
A1 What’s Going On 5:17
A2 The Ghetto 12:18
A3 Hey Girl 4:02
A4 You’ve Got a Friend 4:33
B1 Little Ghetto Boy 4:32
B2 We’re Still Friends 5:15
B3 Jealous Guy 3:09
B4 Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything) 13:40
Easily one of the greatest live experiences ever captured on wax, Donny Hathaway’s Live from 1973 is half taken from a show at New York’s Bitter End club and half from the Troubadour in Hollywood. The group backing Hathaway is absolutely phenomenal – Willie Weeks, one of the most in-demand session musicians of the time kills it on bass, Earl DeRouen keeps things extra funky with his congas, and Fred White and Mike Howard (on drums and guitar, respectively) are no slouches either when it comes to these grooves. Donny himself plays mostly the Wurlitzer electric piano, though I think I heard organ on at least one track. There’s a lot of what I would call ‘soul jamming’, just endless riffing on some soulful Wurlizer chords, but the way these musicians interact with each other is so goddamn incredible, these songs could go on forever and I’d never get sick of them. And as if that wasn’t enough, Donny was blessed with one of the all time great voices for soul music. He sounds a bit like Stevie Wonder with a more gospel edge, but there’s a certain level of pain and sadness in his vocal chords that is unmatched by anyone else. That’s one of the reasons I prefer all three covers on here to the originals, particularly Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On“, his tortured soul is perfectly suited for the subject matter.
Live is also one of those rare exceptions in an artist catalog where the live record is even more essential than the studio albums; the only two songs that appeared before were “The Ghetto” and “Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)“, on Everything Is Everything and both songs are now extended over 10 minutes, with extreme conga playing in the former and a masterful Willie Weeks bass solo in the latter. “Little Ghetto Boy” also has a studio counterpoint on Come Back, Charleston Blue, but the live version eclipses it easily.
Like all my personal favorites, I could go on and on, but I’ll conclude by sharing my all-time favorite moment on this LP: After the swirly jazz intro to “The Ghetto” ends, some girl in the audience, sensing the excitement of what’s about to come, exclaims “Alright, this is it!” That about sums the whole thing up perfectly.