ROBERTA FLACK: ‘Let It Be, Roberta – Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles’ (429 Records)

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It’s been quite a while – nine years to be precise – since Roberta Flack last issued a new album so this freshly-minted opus from the veteran songstress will be eagerly received by her legion of devotees around the world. Though it has apparently garnered a few mixed reviews by rock-biased critics in some of the UK’s broadsheets, the soul fraternity will discover that ‘Let It Be, Roberta’ is actually a decent return to the fray from the smoky-voiced North Carolina-born chanteuse who seduced the world almost forty years ago with the haunting ballad, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song.’ Of course, some aficionados of Liverpool’s Fab Four (the purists perhaps) might object to the slick, machine-tooled R&B-inflected arrangements meted out to the Lennon & McCartney’s mid-’60s classics ‘In My Life’ and ‘We Can Work It Out’ – if so then that’s a failure to acknowledge that this is the 21st century. To this writer’s ears, though, the arrangements on those two particular cuts work well and manage to give the songs a contemporary spin without losing the infectious spirit of the originals.

Another striking sonic deconstruction is provided by ‘I Should Have Known Better,’ which is transmogrified into a throbbing slice of dance floor electronica. The iconic ballad ‘Let It Be’ is more orthodox in terms of its arrangement, though the anthemic ‘The Long And Winding Road’ is re-configured into a duet with an uncredited male vocalist. One of the set’s true standouts is a passionate rendition of ‘Oh Darling,’ a cut originally on the Fabs’ ‘Abbey Road’ LP and which is here transformed into a blues-infused, nocturnal groove. ‘Come Together’ faithfully preserves the sultry swamp-funk feel of the original Beatles’ recording while the ballad, ‘And I Love Him,’ boasts a heavy R&B groove and African-style vocal chants. By contrast, the album’s closing song is a vintage Carnegie Hall live performance of ‘Here, There, & Everywhere’ from 1972. Intimate, subdued and introspective, it epitomises the singular style of Roberta Flack’s classic Joel Dorn-produced Atlantic albums and rounds off what is a pleasing and attractive new offering. Even if ‘Let It Be, Roberta’ doesn’t please some of the purists, it unequivocally confirms that vocally Roberta Flack has still got what it takes. Class, evidently, is permanent. 

(CW) 4/5

Look out for an exclusive interview with Roberta Flack coming soon at SJF.