The Boxing Lesson

Box sets grow up and out

The Boxing Lesson

Donny Hathaway

Never My Love: The Anthology (Atco/Rhino)

If his plane crashed or he'd been shot, would Donny Hathaway be as lionized today as Otis Redding or Sam Cooke? Morbid speculation aside, don't let Donny Hathaway's 1979 suicide discount his soul supernova. On this 'bout-time 4-CD career summary, sequencing's everything: Disc 1 has the lushly arranged, socially conscious hits ("The Ghetto," "Giving Up") that evoke Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, while Disc 2 packs unreleased revelations including "Never My Love," a soaring piano ballad built on the St. Louis-reared singer's church foundation, slow-roil jazz/funk workout "Latin Time," Wurlitzer mantra "Let's Groove," and hard-charging Stax horn swagger "Don't Turn Away." Demons lurk in the exhumed tracks, oft-tentative demos and ambitious symphony "ZYXYGY Concerto" mirroring Hathaway's unraveling genius as it morphs from sunny strings to horror-flick panic. More comforting and exhilarating is Disc 3's 1971 NYC Bitter End show, Hathaway boldly opening with "What's Going On" before guitar wizard Cornell Dupree's band burns down the house. Not as perfect as Hathaway's seminal 1972 Live, but close. The last chapter reintroduces Hathaway and Roberta Flack, whose vulnerable duets ruled Seventies radio and trained a lovelight on a vital and undervalued talent.

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