I'm not sure how I discovered that it was a cover of a Donny Hathaway tune, but as soon as I did, I sought out Hathaway's version as well, which led me to this album. As much as I liked the Watts version of Valdez In The Country, it ain't got nuthin' on the wah-wah guitar and electric piano of the Hathaway original.
Sadly, before purchasing this CD, I knew very little of Hathaway beyond Valdez In The Country, The Ghetto, and his beautiful duets with Roberta Flack. But this album lives up to its title; Hathaway is truly stretching out as a songwriter here. Influenced by everyone from George Gershwin to Marvin Gaye to Maurice Ravel to Stevie Wonder, we're treated to inner city soul, jazz-fusion jams, gospel, beautiful orchestrated instrumentals, and R&B tunes. The lyrics have a definite autobiographical quality to them. It isn't a cohesive album, but it is soulful, painful at times, and certainly ambitious. Don't put it on for background music; this thing requires your full attention and active listening.
Liner notes on the 1993 CD reissue are top notch. Recommended.
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #69
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #18
Tracks: If you've read this far, you know my favorite tune on this one is the instrumental Valdez In The Country. The sweeping, epic first ten minutes of side one, I Love The Lord He Heard My Cry (Parts I & II) segueing into Someday We'll All Be Free, with its perfectly subdued trumpet solo from Marvin Stamm, will stop you in your tracks, too. And we haven't even gotten to the singles yet. The singles from this album were I Love You More Than You Ever Know (#60 pop, #20 R&B), Come Little Children (#67 R&B), and Love Love Love (#44 pop, #16 R&B) - and they're all good, especially Love Love Love. The only skippable track is the retro novelty tune, Magdalena, but I usually don't because while this album is certainly a pastiche, it must be heard start-to-finish for full impact. The bonus track, Lord Help Me (written by Billy Preston), was originally the flipside to I Love You More Than You Ever Know and why it was relegated to a b-side is beyond me.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: See above. To my knowledge, that Ernie Watts album has never been reissued on CD, but I still have a vinyl copy. I transferred it to digital a while back, but it only gets played when I'm feeling nostalgic and replaying high school memories in my head.