The daughter of the popular late R&B singer Donny, husky voiced Lalah Hathaway is the perfect foil for Joe Sample's compelling notion that The Song Lives On. Finding a happy medium between the graceful straight-ahead jazz trio vibe of his Invitation album and the plucky pop energy of Spellbound, Sample provides Hathaway on seven of the 11 tunes with a showcase for her sultry approach.
His and Bill Shnee's production approach is generally sparse, not much more than piano and bass, enhanced on occasion by Fender Rhodes and the occasional smoky input of Kirk Whalum. Sample doesn't seem to mind playing second fiddle most of the time, his trademark mix of dark chords and dancing, optimistic improvisations forming harmony lines behind her; often, though, his itchiness to step higher into the mix comes clear and he breaks into extended upbeat improvisations. On a cover of his Crusaders hit "Street Life," Hathaway turns the title into a mantra and Sample echoes her sentiments with sharp, percussive reiterations of the song's main melody. Then Hathaway stops and Michael Thompson steps in with some edgy electric guitar lines. Other song choices range from reverent takes on standards like "Fever" and "For All We Know" to vocal versions of older, well-known Sample instrumental hits; for example, with Norman Gimbel's cheery lyrics, Hathaway turns the once moody "All God's Children" into a life-affirming love song. The point seeming to be, in finding new life for both his old material and the classics, Sample is bringing a form of immortality to favorite songs.