Roberta Flack’s best music has always been her most melancholy. Her early ’70s hits, such as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” were the sort of gloomily romantic ballads that got under listeners’ skins in a way her lighter collaborations with the late Donny Hathaway never could.
Roberta, her first new album in three years, finds the songstress veering between up-tempo, cocktail-funk workouts and moody torch songs, and again the glum stuff wins. One wonders why Flack even bothered with overarranged fluff like “Sweet Georgia Brown” when with just voice, piano and bass, she breathes new life into a jazz-era chestnut like “My Romance.” Likewise her oddly cheery take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” sounds downright anachronistic next to her lovely, spare interpretation of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Luckily the mood-indigo tunes outnumber the wrongheaded feel-good songs. Program your CD player judiciously, and you can turn Roberta into an even more gratifying album. (Atlantic)