In today’s cliché first, talent second market you can almost look at sales and tell what albums are good…but inversely. The more it sells, the less I tend to like the actual album. I don’t know if that’s a indictment of the industry and commercial tastes or some kind of comment on my own self-conscious. Either way, when you look at Lalah’s body of work, it’s the only logical explanation to why she’s not bigger than she is. I first got familiar with her in 1999 with The Song Lives On which is one of my top 5 albums of all time, period. I was vaguely familiar with her work before then, but I’d never listened to a full project. That album made me a fan and I ended up discovering that way too many folks still are “familiar” but haven’t listened to an entire album and it just like when that was me, it makes no sense. So, off my soapbox, we get a new album from Lalah entitled Where It All Beings and with a title like that, I’m curious to see what it sounds like.
1. Strong Woman
Produced by Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, Dave Young and Bryan Sledge
This is inline with the other top releases this year (Kelly Price, Ledisi, Jill Scott) in providing a much needed anthem for the ladies. You see the title but that doesn’t even scratch the surfaces. Lalah, while no cookie cutter artist by any means, tends to really be known for her more R&B influenced/soulful songs, this song is a banger, no other way to put it. The synthesized bassline and hard hitting drums march you along the song behind lyrics like “she dedicated, but you playin, I suggest you choose, cause you finna lose, a strong woman…before it’s too late, boy I think you better respect it.”
2. Where It All Begins
Produced by Lalah Hathaway and Ernest Green
I’d have to say that this song is a little more in line with the Lalah music we got on the last two albums musically. The tempo is much more slowed down from the previous track and has a much more whimsical personality to it. She takes that musical landscape to hold RnB church, reassuring you that you have to be true to who you are, being sure not to let other folks lives dictate your path. “Say what you mean, mean what you say.”
3. My Everything
Produced by Lalah Hathaway and Jonathan Richmond
We get another funky, drum driven track that should do well in those grown and sexy club across the country. I can definitely see this song being accompanied by a drink and a two step to the dance floor. This one is really unlike anything I’ve really heard her sing, musically and vocally. Lyrically, the song is a dedication to that special someone with various moments where the title is sung on repeat. This is a really good change of pace.
4. Small of My Back
Produced by Lee Hutson Jr.
Lee Hutson Jr. crafts a late 80′s sounding song that feels like it has some Stevie Wonder influence about it. In this song Lalah sings about dancing with her man: “When you put your hand in the small of my back, I just wanna groove with you.” I’ve gotta say that thus far in, this song has a decidedly more dance friendly persona than her previous music.
5. If You Want To
Produced by Lalah Hathaway, Jonathan Richmond, Rahsaan Patterson and Terrence Lilly
Lalah gets a little help from Rahsaan Patterson and friends on the production of this track. I’d say that influence is what changed the mood of the song about halfway through. It went from being a very musically straight forward pop type song to being a bit more of a soulful backdrop, then back to pop. While this isn’t one of my favorite songs on the album, the change in that musical dynamic is interesting to hear.
6. Always Love You
Produced by Micheal C. Flowers
I think it’s fair to say that Lalah isn’t conventional by any means anyway so hearing this song that, like the majority of her music, flies against the grain of the typical song structure is always great. We get more of her lower register here and when paired with the rest of the music on this album thus far, she’s really showing off. If you’re new to Lalah’s music with this album, she’s giving you great range.
7. Lie To Me
Produced by Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, Lil Eddie Serrano, and Rich King
This track may be the most contemporary song on the album. It sounds familiar to a lot of songs you’ve heard on the radio recently. What sets it apart, yet again, is the maturity in her voice and vocal choices. You tend to hear a lot of unnecessary vocal gymnastics with today’s artists. Lalah, however, shows confidence by singing this without the use of those kinds of crutches. She does however add a little reverb to the mic, but even that comes off as a lesson for some as how to do it and keep it classy and actually add to the song. I really like this song because when it first came on and the synthed sounds came a calling, I was ready to not like it. I can’t front though, this is one of my favorite songs on the album.
8. This Could Be Love
Produced by Lalah Hathaway, Ernest Green, and Lewis Williams
On an album where most of the songs could be enjoyed with strobe lights and other visual phrenetic effects, Lalah slows this one down to it’s most moody low. Following with the emotional theme of the song, musically, this one helps put you in a place to just slow everything down and think about what’s going on. “Sounds just like it, looks just like it, feels just like it, like this could be love. Hurts just like it, feels just like it, real just like it, like this could be love.”
9. Wrong Way
Produced by James Fauntleroy II and Lee Hutson Jr.
Okay…we get a little country on the album. Honestly, because the majority of the album has been more experimental than her previous albums, this fits. I really like her vocals on this song as well…matter of fact, I really like this song. I’m not a fan of country in general and outside of the Jamie Foxx song with Rascal Flatts, I can’t think of a country song that I gave a real chance. This song is now on that very short list of country songs that I will play.
10. You Were Meant For Me
Produced by William James Peterkin
One thing I think you can count on from most Lalah albums is her doing at least 1 remake. Taking the time to grab one of her fathers most famous songs, she takes care to not change the spirit of the song, but still manage to make it her own. I’ve commented on this before that it takes a special talent to not just karaoke up destroy a classic song when doing a remake, and she’s putting on a clinic this time around. Bloodline aside, I’d suspect that someone hearing this would link the two versions together without a second thought. Without a doubt, my favorite song on the album.
11. I’m Coming Back
Produced by Gary Taylor
This one is also a remake, but it”s of a Vesta song that she already remade on her debut album. It’s really fitting that on an album titled Where It All Beings she remakes a song that really made fans fall in love with her in the first place. If you haven’t heard her first remake you should check it out prior to this updated version so you can appreciate the differences.
Produced by Lalah Hathaway, Errol Cooney and James Day
Lalah goes with an almost celestial lullaby song to end the album. Painting the picture of singing this song to her daughter prior to bed, she really brings this back to the title of the album. It feels full circle that she’s singing this song to the next generation as a foundation for greatness.
This has been a great year for the women of R&B and this album is another in that truth. From start to finish, this is one of the more enjoyable albums offered this year and a must have for any Lalah fan. If you’re new to her music, you’ll really get a feel of her wide vocal range as well as the depth of her musical influences ranging from Hip Hop to Country. Where It All Beings is the most varied, enjoyable, and insightful look at who Lalah Hathaway is.