A romantic, it is said, is someone who is often homesick for places he has never been. I think I understand what that means when I hear a recording by an artist with such a strong performing presence that I can easily imagine I have heard him or her "live" when I actually haven't. Roberta Flack's new Atlantic album is such a recording. She is in such superb control of every facet ofher performance--her garnet voice, her vital piano playing, her tart but melodic arrangements--that she seems to leap to life in the imagination as the records plays.
Roberta Flack is a special kind of multi-talented musician, but her appeal is wide; there is no clubby cultishness about her, not hothouse air of "we few, we happy few, lucky enough to have the good taste to enjoy each other". No, Miss Flack is right out front, laying it on the line, doing a professional and virtuoso job of controlled yet deeply passionate singing and playing. Her Bridge over Troubled Water is 7 minutes of the finest music-making I have ever heard spring from that song, and Sweet Bitter Love becomes in her hands a powerful anthem of mixed emotions.
Being one of the best, Miss Flack wisely surrounds herself with some of the best: Hugh McCracken on guitar, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Grady Tate on percussion. Arif Mardin contributes a lovely string and flute arrangement on See You Then. But the essential contribution and the real message here are the tremendous talents of Roberta Flack. She is the best new black singer to arrive since Aretha Franklin.