“There is an unparalleled sincerity in the music of Donny Hathaway. He did not just sing, he emoted. While many have found solace in their craft, Hathaway used music as means of expression for his oft conflicted psyche. But that was Donny Hathaway. He was real life. There were moments of uncontrollable joy and optimism amongst a cavalcade of darkness. This reality was only exacerbated in his live performances. It was on the stage that he was truly free. Away from the confines of a studio, Hathaway carried a unique rawness that others simply did not have.
These Songs For You Live! begins with two of Hathaway’s lighter compositions, “Flying Easy” and “Valdez in the Country.” Even on a mellowed out track like “Flying Easy,” we can still hear Hathaway stretching his vocals, grasping for something not quite there. It’s a beautiful performance that properly presents the depths of his vocal acuity. Intriguingly, “Valdez in the Country” has Hathaway stepping away from the microphone only to engage in his own technical virtuosity, as he effortlessly skates across the keys on this jazzy composition.
While Hathaway, does his due diligence to his own works, I continually find myself going back to the trio of covers he performs in the middle of the album. He begins with the Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On.” Void of the enhanced instrumentation conducted on the original, Hathaway provides a substantially stripped down performance combined with the emotional pull of his vocalization. From there, he goes on to rework the Beatles acoustic ballad “Yesterday.” Maintaining much of the song’s original minimalism, Hathaway once again delivers on a song written for one of the lowest moments in everyone’s life – heartbreak. This narrative concludes with a cover of the second half of Stevie Wonder’s two part suite “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You).” Moving away from Stevie’s upbeat rhythmic take on the composition, the song is transformed into a languid ballad, building up over time through the singing of Hathaway, leading to a reemergence of the original buoyant tempo. Hathaway had an obvious mastery of his own material. I, however, was even more impressed by his appreciation and understanding of the works of others…”
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