Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles
429 Records, 2012
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/05/2012
Roberta Flack has long been one of my favorite soul singers. Her voice is beautiful and for the most part her catalogue of albums is a very impressive one. For her latest album, Flack decided to perform a whole record of Beatles’ songs to pay tribute to one of her musical heroes. Flack let her friend and neighbor (in the Dakota building, NYC) Yoko Ono know of her idea and received Ono’s blessing. Ono also wrote a nice note for the CD booklet.
Work began on the record last year as Flack oversaw the production with a host of producers and engineers who began sourcing songs from possibly the greatest songbook known to mankind. Anytime an artist tackles this songbook, they are setting themselves up for anything from bemusement to harsh ridicule upon release due to the regard that the Lennon/McCartney catalogue is held in by fans and critics alike. So the pleasing aspect for me reviewing this album is that Roberta’s stunning voice is still as effective as ever, and overall she has turned out a very nice album.
There are only a couple of songs that just didn’t work for her (a weak “Come Together” and a flat “If I Fell”), but all is forgiven because the remaining 10 songs are wonderful to listen to, mainly because Flack decided to rework every song and not just cover them as they were. The most radical reworking here is a glorious version of “We Can Work It Out,” which has been slowed down and revamped as a slick but catchy R&B track. “The Long And Winding Road” is also sowed down into a beautiful soul ballad that fits Flack like a glove.
“In My Life” is given a more up-tempo arrangement and a lot of space for Flack’s soulful but breezy delivery. I love the way this one turned out. “Hey Jude” is probably closest to its original form of all the songs here, Flack sings it superbly and is backed by a nice acoustic track that does not include the famous sing-along ending. “Oh Darling” and “And I Love Him” sound brilliant as the former appears as a nice ballad and the latter a slow-jamming funk track; both add a nice change from the more well known songs that appear here.
The only non-Lennon/McCartney song covered here is George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity,” on which Flack has somehow retained the original feel of the song while reinventing it at the same time – a nice touch indeed. The album closes with a live recording from Carnegie Hall in 1972 of “Here, There And Everywhere,” which is just Flack singing at her piano and accompanied by a bass. What’s most remarkable about this is the fact that in the 40 years since that was recorded, Roberta’s voice has barely changed or aged at all.
Overall, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how well this thing turned out, and while the magic of these songs can never be reproduced by anyone other than The Beatles themselves, Flack has found the soul in them, and that is something that very few can claim to have done over the years.
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