Album review

Roberta Flack :
Softly With These Songs
- The Best Of

Atlantic Records

Roberta Flack : Softly With These Songs - The Best OfRoberta Flack was a staple of the 70s R&B scene, a lightweight soul diva whose sweet voice decorated many pleasant but undemanding hits. Yet her delivery always seemed to hint at a greater potential which was to go ultimately unrealised.
    Specialising in coffee table classics like Killing Me Softly With His Song or the milky love duet Where Is The Love with Donny Hathaway, she was most appealing as a kind of decaffeinated Nina Simone on covers of classy love songs like Ewan MacColl's The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face or Carole King's Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.
    Like many inspired covers artists over the years from Frank Sinatra to George Michael, she's at her best when she feels her way inside a lyric - and on some of these early cuts she brings a sleepy, wondering sensuality to simple, piano-led arrangements of understated love songs.

She was only ever as good as her material though, and for every sublime moment in this collection there's a corresponding clunker. As she moved into the 80s, Flack seemed to lose confidence in herself - dwindling into cheesy MOR balladry and anonymous disco-queen tawdriness. On 1983's Tonight I Celebrate My Love she duets with Peabo Bryson on a song so stickily sentimental it can barely ooze out of the speakers, whilst the late 80s material on offer lurches from the tediously generic to the downright tasteless.
    Consequently, this chronological collection traces a sad downward slide into mediocrity. The final track Uh-Uh Ooh-Ooh Look Out (Here It Comes) is as stupid as it sounds, burying a great voice in an irrelevant Euro-disco racket which could have been run off an assembly line.
    With better choice of material and a greater confidence, you can't help feeling that it could all have amounted to so much more.

:: Clare O'Brien

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