Lalah Hathaway: Self Portrait (2008)

I picked up this CD at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Labor Day Weekend last year.  Lalah Hathaway was one of the featured performers in a Marvin Gaye tribute on Friday, and had her own set of original compositions on the Saturday.

The liner notes on which she scrawls, “Pitch is the new Black” is indicative of the authenticity of the music.  With this phrase she is taking a swipe at auto tune technology that is used and overused in studio recordings to make every note perfectly in tune; turning even the worst singer into a perfect one.  It is a technological phenomenon that some would argue is taking the soul and personality out of music.

Self Portrait, is Lalah’s fifth studio release.  It was released by the newly revived Stax Records.   Stax Records was founded in 1957 in Memphis, and in 1975 claimed bankruptcy.   Of the esteemed Stax Records, Lalah says “The foundation of soul music is rooted in Stax Records … I’m proud to carry the torch that will continue to bring quality soul music to a new audience.”   And quality soul music, Self Portrait is.

The opening track, Let Go, is about letting go of a bad relationship.   If you’re not nodding your head in agreement with the sentiment of the lyric (“Tell me what you’re gonna do/pointless ‘cause you don’t come through/wasted breath and words on you/I’ve done all I can/it’s true”), you’ll be nodding your head along with the groove.   A portion of the vocal has an effect that is reminiscent of Kanye West’s Heartache, but that is far as she takes use of it.

The second song, Breathe, is perhaps best indicative of the impeccable mixing and production throughout this album.   The listener doesn’t have to strain to hear any of the elements of the song nor are they overwhelmed by them.  It gives the listener the opportunity to just lay back, listen, and breathe.

The album as a whole has a Neo-Soul vibe, with meaningful and personal lyrics.  The sensual quality of Lalah’s voice, and the grooves make it perfect for a romantic setting.  It is definitely an album with which to set the night to music.

Self Portrait, can be purchased through iTunes, Amazon, and any major retailer.  Also be sure to check out her father, Donny Hathaway’s, recordings.


Reviewed by Jef Kearns
Jef Kearns is a Soul Flautist proving that flute can be just as down-and-dirty as sax.  He can be found at

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