In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Roberta Flack’s second album, 1970’s Chapter Two, exists in a weird sort of dead zone of her discography, released after her soon-to-be hit debut First Take, but before Clint Eastwood’s use of “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” in 1971’s Play Misty For Me made that album a late-breaking bestseller. Consequently, Chapter Two got kind of skipped over on the way to Flack’s name-making success with 1973’s Killing Me Softly. Which is too bad, because it’s a sweet little album, slight at eight songs but packed with smoldering, soulful takes on covers like Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” and Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go.” (As well as, um, “The Impossible Dream,” which is actually quite bearable in Flack’s hands.)
But it’s “Reverend Lee” that really distinguishes Chapter Two, despite the fact that it sticks out as the torch-song-filled album’s lone groove, spiked with funky horns and organ. Flack’s performance on this hymn of carnal temptation is intoxicating, from the coy spoken-word intro to the lusty midpoint crescendo to the moaning appearance of the devil. It’s astoundingly sexy without being remotely lewd, and far removed from the tendency toward schmaltz that would come to (somewhat unfairly) define the singer over the years. Turn the lights low and the sound up, grab a drink, and revel in the delicious sin.