By way of disclosure, let me say I’ve known Roberta Flack as an interview subject since 1978; I first heard her music in 1969; and over the years, we’ve developed a personal association that has included many great conversations about music. Thus, one could conclude, I’m biased!
That said, I read a review of LET IT BE ROBERTA, a selection of Beatles’ songs and Roberta’s first full U.S. album in eighteen years (the last being ROBERTA for which I was privileged to write liner notes) before I heard it. The review was less than encouraging , the writer stating that the use of modern-day instrumentation had resulted in his general dislike of the project: he yearned, apparently, for the more acoustic flavour of Roberta’s early recordings.
I understand the need to move with the times but with the review in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect, having only had a short taste of what to expect via the single, “We Can Work It Out.” I’ve listened several times over, at home and on the London subway (tube). I’ve bopped my head to “And I Love Him” with its Afro-flavored opening chant, I’ve tapped my foot to “I Should Have Known Better” and I’ve given my best ‘soulful’ look to fellow passengers on the train as I bathed in the beauty of “If I Fell.” I can report, bias and all, that this is absolutely one of my favorite albums of 2012 thus far and will likely end up on the short list of great records of the year.
No, this isn’t “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” or “Killing Me Softly”: rather, it’s a collection of highly musical outings that bring a fresh and contemporary flavor to time-honored songs, delivered with heart and soul by the inimitable Ms. Flack. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of “Come Together,” which I always thought was a little naughty - but then, that had to do with my own interpretation of the hook line, apparently a product of my own mind and not shared by anyone else (at least no one online who ‘read’ whatever I read into that hook line!). Somehow, miraculously, Roberta’s version has given me a new view of the song.
With great production from Sherrod Barnes, Jerry Barnes, Barry Miles, Ricardo Jordan and Roberta herself, other tunes like “Hey Jude” and “The Long And Winding Road” are transformed into something personal. Talking of personal, a standout for me is the bluesy “Oh Darling,” not a song I remember particularly well from my years of listening to The Beatles in the ‘60s and early ‘70s but one that I now thoroughly enjoy thanks to Ms. Flack’s new take on it.
Speaking of takes, for those who want FIRST TAKE (Roberta's 1969 debut album) revisited, this ain’t it - although if you are pining for the more acoustic side of Roberta's music, you can check the final track - a live version of "Here There And Everywhere" recorded at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1971 (the tape of which I am proud to say I found during one of my official vault trips on behalf of Rhino Records several years ago).
If you can accept that Roberta Flack like all great artists must and should move with the times while retaining their artistic integrity, this one’s for you.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.