It was in 1969 that the inimitable ROBERTA FLACK “arrived” with the release of her seminal album, ‘First Take’. Her intimate and soulful treatments of songs like ’The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men’, ‘Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ and, of course, ‘The First Time I Ever Saw You Face’ announced the arrival of a both a major and unique talent .
Roberta’s critically-acclaimed “arrival” was quick and sudden. After graduating in music from Howard University, family circumstances led her to a series of teaching jobs. To supplement her income she also began playing piano and singing in and around the lively Washington club and bar scene and it was in a DC club that the young musician was “discovered” by jazz star Les McCann.
The piano man, stunned by what he heard, quickly arranged an audition for Roberta at Atlantic Records. At the audition Ms Flack played over 40 songs for the not-easily-impressed producer Joel Dorn. Like McCann, Dorn was mesmerised and right away had this new “find” record a series of demos and then the material for that seminal debut album, ‘First Take’. The 1969-released eight tracker, though critically acclaimed, was a slow burner with the general public. It wasn’t until 1971 that it really took flight. In that year her version of ‘The First Time I Ever Saw You Face’ was featured in the Clint Eastwood movie, ‘Play Misty For Me’ – and the rest… well, that’s history!
Over the years various selections from those first auditions and demos have leaked out; then in 2020, the best 12 of those cuts were released on CD as part of a de-luxe edition of ‘First Take’ Now though, for the first time those 12 “lost” Flack tracks are becoming available on vinyl, as, of course, they were originally intended.
Celebrated DJ, producer and label owner Gilles Peterson has long had access to the Warner archives and he’s now thrilled to be able to issue these seminal Flack recordings on his own Arc Records imprint. The set list in some ways is like the listing on ‘First Take’ and sonically too it’s very similar. Thus the song selections include American song book/show tune standards, jazz classics and popular covers like a wonderfully intense version of the Motown chestnut ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. Oddly, maybe, there are two songs made popular by folk trio, Peter Paul and Mary. They are ‘The House Song’ and ‘The Song Is Love’. The two big set pieces are a riveting version of Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue’ and the Lulu song ‘To Sir With Love’. ‘Afro Blue’ has some stellar versions – Oscar Brown, Abbey Lincoln and John Coltrane to name just three; but here Ms Flack puts her own intimate stamp on it. Ditto her epic eight and half minute version of ‘To Sir With Love’. That song has, oddly maybe, long been a favourite with US soul and jazz performers and here it’s delivered in a whole, new, gentle yet intense iteration. By the way, the album opens with a short, concise version of the standard ‘This Could Be The Start Of Something Big’ – prophetic or what?
Sadly Roberta Flack now suffers with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which means she can no longer perform or record. It’s an understatement to say that the four times Grammy Winner has left us with a magnificent legacy. To that legacy we can now officially add the dozen tracks on ’Lost Takes’.