VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Killing Me Softly With His Song Mixtape”
There’s not much of a back story. “Killing Me Softly With His Song” was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. It was first recorded by Lori Liebermann. Depending on one’s age, most of the world knows the song because of Roberta Flack or Lauryn Hill. “Killing Me Softly” was a major hit for both Flack and Hill (who at the time was a member of The Fugees, hence the song was listed as a group effort).
The lyrics seem made for the sonic silk that is the sonority of Roberta Flack’s voice. Roberta smooth, long tones flow and float effortlessly and cause us to bask in auditory bliss.
Actually we have two versions from Lauryn. The first is the Fugees hit and the second is from Dave Chapelle’s Block Party, at which Lauryn is featured in a surprise Fugees reunion. Of course given the humongous line-up, Lauryn’s set is abbreviated and “Killing Me Softly” suddenly ends as she segues into a completely different tune. I find Lauryn’s vocal work much more interesting in the short solo workout even though the truncated version is deficient in terms of production.
As always, I’ve tried to put together an eclectic mix of versions including both of the most well known. Although primarily known as a vehicle for vocalists, there are some interesting variations offered in the jazz instrumental vein. Organist Jimmy Smith and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins go the funky route whereas trumpeter Blue Mitchell and pianist Roland Hanna mine Latin-flavored approaches.
In the vocals department there are a couple of surprises. First there is the Jamaican Studio crew doing a Fugees tribute in which they strip down the arrangement but replica the central elements of Lauryn’s version. It may sound heretical but I believe they actually out-sing Lauryn even though overall it’s not as strongly produced. I think Wyclef was a bigger factor in the success of the Fugees than most people admit. Afro-Cuban septuagenarian Omara Portuondo continues to bring the sizzle and Cuban hot sauce. Versatile, disco vocalist Amii Stewart surprises with a strong, R&B flavored interpretation.
Second, we have a couple of a capella choral arrangements, one in a doo-wop groove (Inspiration) and the other in a super-smooth cross between quiet storm, smooth jazz and light classical (Singers Unlimited).
I usually don’t have a clear cut favorite but in this case I’ve got to make note of Luther Vandross. I like what Luther does not just for the inventiveness of his arrangement but more so because of the way he improvises within the structure of the song's melody and lyrics. He doesn’t only have a singular sound, he also has a unique approach that reflects a high level of musical understanding, sensitivity and imagination.
“Killing Me Softly” is one of those songs that could easily drift into over-wrought melodrama. Thankfully rather than a fistful of tears, here we can smile, and even boogie sometimes, as these artists strum our emotions.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Killing Me Softly With His Song Mixtape Playlist
01 The Best Of Roberta Flack – Roberta Flack
02 Testifyin' - Jimmy Smith
03 Lady to Ladies - Amii Stewart
04 The Last Tango Blues - Blue Mitchell
05 Rhythms Del Mundo Cuba - Omara Portuondo
06 Greatest Hits - Fugees
07 The Barbecue Swingers Live - Kermit Ruffins
08 "Live" (Dave Chappell’s Block Party) - Lauryn Hill
09 Top Singles From - 1990 - 1999 - Studio All Stars
10 Sir Elf - Roland Hanna
11 The Inspiration - Inspiration
12 Songs - Luther Vandross
13 Magic Voices - Singers Unlimited
This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2011 at 8:23 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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