Never My Love
Donny Hathaway celebrated on career anthology
Never My Love: The Anthology is a set more than a decade in the making. A previously scheduled compilation was being assembled before mysteriously being shelved a decade ago. In that time, the U.S. market has only seen a couple of live releases (These Songs For You, Live and a repackaging of the remastered live sets Live and In Performance) and a ten-track budget compilation (Flashback with Donny Hathaway). Meanwhile, overseas markets saw a reissue of the overlooked blaxploitation soundtrack Come Back Charleston Blue by Donny and Quincy Jones in 2007 and a limited edition four-CD box set in 2010, Someday We’ll All Be Free, the latter of which featured all of his three solo albums, a small sampling of Come Back Charleston Blue, and a healthy chunk of his live work. More importantly, a handful of demos and previously unreleased studio work emerged. That left many hard-core Hathaway fans wondering just how much vault material there was. On this latest set, the most comprehensive overview yet that Rhino/Atco has assembled, we get to hear a baker’s dozen more, none of which repeat from the 2010 box set.
Our first glimpse into what was to come came back in April 2013 when a 7-inch was released on Record Store Day pairing a cover of the Association’s “Never My Love” with an original, “Memory of Our Love.” The tracks date back to 1973 and 1974, respectively, and each is a showcase for Hathaway’s amazing talent to belt a ballad and bring a sense of immediacy to it or to breeze through a mid-tempo studio jam. Both of these titles appear on the second disc, which features eleven other tracks from 1968 to 1978. Other tracks include “A Lot of Soul,” which combines elements of gospel and country with its bouncy bass line and slight use of slide guitar, a fantastic jazz piano–inflected “Let’s Groove,” and in-progress instrumentals like “Brown Eyed Lady” and organ-infused “The Sands of Time and Changes.”
Another top track from the vaults is the William Peterkin–penned “Sunshine Over Showers,” which has an up-tempo transition sandwiched between an evenly paced slow jam. (Snippets of previously unreleased material appear at the best blog there is on Hathaway. It’s run by Joachim Bertrand who has contributed mightily to both box sets.)
The biggest score on the set may be the classical piece that Hathaway composed back in 1972 (although not recorded until 1973). Those who have heard the interview that appended These Songs for You, Live will recall a symphony he mentioned called “Life” (on this set entitled “ZYXYGY Concerto”) that he described as dealing “with the different aspects of life—the good, the bad, the positive, the negative, the dull, the exciting—ya know, the tension, the calm…” Spanning twenty minutes, that description is apt, as piano adorns orchestral musings that boom and bottom out.
The third disc collects ten previously unreleased live performances from 1971 at the Bitter End. While the performances themselves are unique, each has been released in live format from another show. The usual suspects accompany Hathaway (piano) onstage—Cornell Dupree and Mike Howard (guitar), Willie Weeks (bass), Fred White (drums), and Earl DeRouen (congas).
The fourth disc is a disc dedicated to duets performed with Roberta Flack, all previously released among their various duet projects. Thirteen tracks in all round out the final disc (four) of the set.
That brings us back around to the opening disc. It is essentially a hits disc, although a number of tracks see their single (read: shorter) versions utilized (many seeing the CD format for the first time) including the two-part version of “The Ghetto,” a promo edit of “Thank You Master (For My Soul),” “A Song for You,” “Magnificent Sanctuary Band,” “Giving Up,” “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” and “Come Little Children.” The studio version of “Little Ghetto Boy” is used instead of its more common live version (which does show up on the third disc) and two tracks from his days at Curtom start the set off, “I Thank You Baby” and “Just Another Reason,” both with June Conquest.
The set caters primarily to hard-core Hathaway fans (who should still want to keep their Someday We’ll All Be Free set for its unique tracks). Still, “I Thank You Baby,” a track not easily found elsewhere, is a real scorcher. Casual fans may not find enough hard-hitting bite from the unreleased material, and none of the live material surpasses anything else previously released from the stage, although it’s still quite good.
The liner notes, penned by Charles Waring, who has written for Wax Poetics, Blues & Soul, and MOJO among other publications, are expertly written. Across twenty-two pages, he examines the life and influence Hathaway had over his contemporaries and has continued to have years after his untimely passing. Liner note junkies will appreciate that two-and-a-half pages are dedicated to the unreleased material and a staggering five-and-a-half to the live material.
Even if another box set beat this one to market, it is a godsend to see Hathaway recognized again after a relative drought of releases in his home country. Rhino/Atco has done a marvelous job summarizing his career. His rich voice and genius can never be celebrated enough.
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