A molten murmur flexes into a cry as pure as a prayer, heartfelt as a confessional.
Jack Smith 2004-02-11
That voice. A molten murmur flexes into a cry as pure as a prayer, heartfelt as a confessional. It is elegantly tender, almost unbearably intimate.
Few songs catch love in all its agony and ecstasy more ravishingly than Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." At a time when everyone else was tripping out on psychedelic rock Flack's recording of Ewan Macoll's folk song was an unlikely hit; the music was puritanically plain, the words so simple. When Clint Eastwood included the track in the film Play Misty For Me, the song launched this high-school music teacher to international fame. Thirty years on the song still shines, no amount of airplay on late-night 'lurvers' request shows has tarnished its glory.
It's a memorable opening to a compilation of Flack's hits. Released in 1993, this digital remastering offers no dainty new morsels. But with a legion of young chanteuses marching on the horizon, it's a timely reminder of a talent which slipped effortlessly between soul, R&B, jazz and disco; while remaining in a genre and class of its own.
The song for which Flack is invariably remembered is the majestic "Killing Me Softly", a tribute to singer Don McClean. It is a silken, strange and wonderfully unsentimental piece. On other tracks too, Flack reveals her distance from her peers. She transforms trashy helpless-woman-track "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" into a thoughtful ballad, proving you don't need volume and vibrato for maximum emotional impact.
There is funkier stuff in the second half. Flack's duets with Donny Hathaway, such as "Where Is The Love?" and "Back Together Again", offer up impeccably groomed soul for grown-ups.
Things get a bit rough after the 70s, as Flack worked on more mainstream music collaborations. There are duets with reggae star Maxi Priest ("Set The Night To Music"), and Peabo Bryson in the histrionic "Tonight I Celebrate My Love". Most regrettable is "Uh-uh Ooh-ooh Look Out (Here It Comes)", Flack's vocal caressing spliced unforgivably into a whistle-and-bleep house mix by Steve Hurley. Yuck!
Still, the first half dozen tracks make this album more than worth a spin. Norah, Katie, Joss: listen and learn.