Donny Hathaway's legacy has been mostly lost to the mainstream in the years since his untimely death. His contemporaries during the late '60s and 1970s, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green, are more recognizable by name to the masses, but Hathaway's impact on popular music cannot be overstated. Someday We'll All Be Free collects virtually all of his solo output from Atlantic minus his work on the Come Back Charleston Blue soundtrack (with the studio version of "Little Ghetto Boy" being the lone exception), an interview from a live compilation from 2004, and a live version of "Nu-Po" from his In Performance album (which has been replaced with an alternate live version from Carnegie Hall). The difference between this set and the similar collection entitled Original Album Series released around the same time is that the Someday We'll All Be Free collects five previously unreleased demos and two previously unreleased live cuts. For the bonus material alone, Someday We'll All Be Free eclipses the Original Album Series box. Some of the previously unreleased compositions were picked up from an anthology that was inexplicably pulled before its release in the mid-2000s. Included is a studio version of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy" that was previously only available in a live format. The general performance, although extended by a half minute, is roughly the same with its trademark quick ivory tickles presumably by Hathaway himself.
The remaining demos are from 1974 and 1975 and showcase a man with incredible talent that ranges from two bouncy jazz vocals ("No Other One But You" and "The Essence of Destiny"), a gorgeous -- albeit short -- ballad ("Make It on Your Own"), and a piano jam with pomp ("Going Down"). The liner notes speculate these were from sessions for a fourth solo album that never came to fruition, in part because of the burgeoning success with duet partner Roberta Flack. The packaging is top-notch, as the compilation's four discs are housed in a DVD-sized case that opens into a trifold with the liner notes, written in French, neatly tucked into a small slit. Photographs of Hathaway, sheet music, and picture sleeves of 33s and 45s adorn the pages of the notes. The only negative aspect for the box set is that the collection breaks up albums, ordered chronologically, to fit the collection onto four discs. It's a small complaint for a compilation that honors the late singer's memory with such precision and care. In no way does it diminish its overall mission to present a macroscopic view of a master at work. Flack and Wonder were in awe of the totality of Hathaway's gifts of arranging, writing, singing, and performing. Someday We'll All Be Free serves the initiated and uninitiated alike to be the definitive collection for Donny Hathaway as a solo performer. It is a release unequivocally not to be missed. ~ Eric Luecking