Reviewed by Emily Marcroft for Coverville.com
It often seems as though the same 20 Beatles songs are covered over and over again, particularly the later, more mature works. Wonderfully, Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings The Beatles takes a liberal journey through both the depth of the Beatles catalog and the development of their songwriting. Of course, Yesterday, Let It Be, and In My Life are here, but so are Oh Darling, I Should Have Known Better, And I Love Her, and I’m Looking Through You. Rules of the canon are also somewhat broken – Isn’t It A Pity is from George Harrison’s first post-Beatles record All Things Must Pass, though to be fair, it was written in 1966 and mystifyingly was never deemed strong enough to release on a Beatles album or even as a b-side.
While Flack’s Come Together and Let It Be are very faithful to the originals, quite a few tracks go to interesting new places. Vocally, Oh Darling wouldn’t sound out of place in the bluesiest of blues clubs, in stark contrast to the almost religious Little Richard-like fervor of the classic recording.
“Another lover down” sings Flack in I Should Have Known Better, purposely changing the lyrical direction of the song from one of realization of new love to that of cynical resignation at yet another ending. Use of samples, a complimentary backing vocal, and a disco beat complete the utter transformation of an early Beatles pop ditty to a post-modern R&B jam.
Flack infuses Here, There and Everywhere with new detail and warmth; as a concert recording with only piano and gentle drum accompaniment, it’s easy to imagine the performance occurring in an old-fashioned nightclub setting, a spotlight starkly illuminating a glamorous Flack as she deftly maneuvers the song to its high point.
In a way, Flack interprets Hey Jude in a more authentic style than the original version – Flack doesn’t go in for any boisterous na-na-na-nana-na sing-a-longs, she brings the song back down to the personal, encouraging conversation Paul McCartney imagined having with Julian Lennon (or John himself, depending on how it’s interpreted) when he wrote it.
Despite Flack being a singer-with-a-capital-S, other performers are allowed to get some good licks in. The guitar work on both We Can Work It Out and The Long and Winding Road is quite appealing, the latter approximating a sitar in a nice sixties reference. Room is also made for some great backing singers on the aforementioned We Can Work It Out and a well-executed R&B duet on The Long and Winding Road.
Thought clearly went into the song choices on Let It Be and craft went into creating these songs, avoiding the commonly encountered Beatles-cover pitfalls of excess reverence or unimaginative interpretations. If R&B-based pop and the Beatles intersect in your musical life, this album won’t disappoint. 4 out of 5.