#VinylRevivals: Roberta Flack, ‘First Take’


American soul singer, Roberta Flack, is an enigma. She’s a voice and personality that carries much weight within the serious world of contemporary popular music, and she’s chiefly responsible for influencing the subgenre of contemporary R&B, known as ‘quiet storm’. Her minimalist, classical trained approach to song delivery is very much a standout feature of her artistry – she’s just about as smooth, sophisticated, classy, jazzy and calculated as it comes.

Roberta Flack’s debut album, First Take, is a timeless classic that showcases her immense talent as a vocalist and interpreter of songs. Released in 1969 on the Atlantic label, the album quickly established Flack as a force within the world of soul and jazz music. With her mesmerising voice, impeccable phrasing, and emotive delivery, Flack is just about the most captivating singer to ever sit at the piano, and this album is beyond proof. It even made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list.

The album opens with the iconic Compared To What, a socially conscious and powerful track that sets the tone for the rest of the record. Flack’s passions soar over a backdrop of funky rhythms and lush orchestration, creating a powerful musical statement. Another great song on the album is Trade Winds, a haunting reflection with sparse instrumentation and atmospheric production, adding to its ethereal quality.

One of the standout tracks on First Take, and widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful ever recordings, is Flack’s sublime rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Her delicate and heartfelt interpretation of this romantic ballad is nothing short of breathtaking. With her evocative delivery and the subtle accompaniment of delicate piano, Flack captures the essence of love and vulnerability, creating a timeless masterpiece that became a number one hit in the US, and a feature of the soundtrack to Play Misty For Me, the classic Clint Eastwood movie.

Ballad of the Sad Young Men is another highlight on the album. Flack’s delicate storytelling shines through as she delves into the melancholic world of lost dreams and youthful disillusionment. Her evocative vocals, combined with the soulful arrangement, make this song a powerful and emotionally charged moment on an intense record. The album also features an exceptional version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, the Carol King penned number that was originally a hit for The Shirelles. Flack’s interpretation brings a fresh and sensitive perspective to the song, infusing it with a blend of vulnerability and strength. Her nuanced delivery perfectly captures the uncertainty and longing at the core of the lyrics.

First Take is a masterpiece that firmly established Roberta Flack as a vocal powerhouse and a true artist. With its blend of soul, jazz and pop influences, it remains a timeless and essential statement in the world of music, leaving an indelible mark that resonates long after the last note fades. Here was a young black woman with something to say, and boy were we listening. First Take is a testament to Roberta Flack’s enduring legacy as one of the greatest vocalists of her generation.

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