Donny Hathaway – Donny Hathaway Live

  • Stunning sound throughout for this superb live album with both sides earning shootout winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Hathaway and his band are on fire here playing for an enthusiastic small club audience – this is the best album the man ever made and a true Must Own
  • Clean originals of this Classic Soul album are practically impossible to find in audiophile condition, and this one has its fair share of problems, but with music and sound this good, it’s a lot easier to overlook them
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Donny Hathaway’s 1972 Live album is one of the most glorious of his career… Live solidified Hathaway’s importance at the forefront of soul music.”
  • If you’re a Donny Hathaway fan, this is a Must Own Classic from 1972 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is an absolutely superb recording. The best copies capture the feeling of a live club like few recordings you’ve ever heard. The enthusiasm of the crowd, the honest, emotive performances, the superb musicianship — it’s all there on a Shootout Winning Hot Stamper copy like this.

I’ve been playing this record regularly since I first heard it back in the mid-’90s and it never gets old. If I could take only one soul album to my desert island, it would be this one, no doubt about it.

It takes us three to five years to run across enough clean copies of this album to do a shootout, so don’t expect to see another one this nice on the site for a while.

What amazing sides such as these have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1972
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the two clubs in was recorded in: The Troubador in Hollywood (side one) and The Bitter End in New York (side two)

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Side One Versus Side Two

The average pressing of this album is hard, compressed, veiled and lifeless. It is an absolute travesty to hear one of the smoothest, most soulful singers who ever lived sounding harsh and biting. It just doesn’t add up. With a copy like this you can immediately understand and appreciate the honest, emotive sound that made Donny Hathaway the tremendous performer he was known to be.

Having said that, this is a live recording, which means there are always going to be mistakes that can’t be fixed. In some places Donny overdrives the mics — or the board, or the tape, who can say for certain? It’s a small price to pay for such an energetic performance.

Side two, recorded at The Bitter End in New York, has consistantly better sound than side one, which was recorded at The Troubador here in L.A.. Side two is almost always richer, sweeter and more Tubey Magical.

Listening Test — Don’t Be Fooled

Pay close attention to the audience chatter and clapping. Most copies, being compressed and veiled, have no hope of reproducing the handclaps and audience shout-outs correctly. Only those copies with transparency and presence let you “see” the crowd properly.

But don’t be fooled by thinner, leaner sounding copies. There is tons of low end and lower midrange in this recording — it’s one of its greatest strengths, and it’s what it would have sounded like if you were there — so make sure you have plenty going on in the lower frequencies before you start evaluating the audience participation. Many audiophile recordings are leaner and cleaner, producing a phony kind of transparency and detail at the expense of the fullness and richness of the recording. This is almost never a good thing.

Listening Test — Conga Energy

The copies where the congas are up-front, punchy and full-bodied were the ones where the rhythmic energy really carried the day. You know it when you hear it, that’s for sure. Most copies failed in this regard to some degree. If you have more than one copy, focus on just this one element and see if you don’t hear quite a bit more energy on the copies with more prominent, solid-sounding congas.


Side One

What’s Going On
The Ghetto
Hey Girl
You’ve Got a Friend

Side Two

Little Ghetto Boy
We’re Still Friends
Jealous Guy
Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)

AMG Review

Donny Hathaway’s 1972 Live album is one of the most glorious of his career, an uncomplicated, energetic set with a heavy focus on audience response as well as the potent jazz chops of his group. Hardly the obligatory live workout of most early-’70s concert LPs, Live solidified Hathaway’s importance at the forefront of soul music.